Scripture reading for today:
The God of Rewrites
“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep,” I hear these words spoken from the backstage, where I stand, waiting in the wings for my next cue. I watch Marie, who is playing Scout Finch lean her head against Atticus, and I see the shine of tears in the eyes of the audience in the first row. Tonight, as with each previous performance, we all weep. The story doesn’t end as we expect; it’s all gone terribly wrong.
I studied theatre in college, and during my junior year, I was cast in a production of To Kill a Mockingbird, based on the beloved novel of the same title by Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird, set in 1930s Alabama, tells the story of a young, African-American man, Tom, who is falsely accused of raping a white woman. A kind, upstanding lawyer, Atticus Finch, is appointed to defend Tom. The events of the trial and its impact on the community are told through the eyes of Atticus’s young daughter, Scout. Despite Atticus’ sound defence and clear proof of innocence, Tom is unjustly convicted of the crime by an all-white jury.
“How could they, Atticus?”, Scout pleads, “How could they do it?” How could they, indeed. Each night after the performance, we host an audience “talk-back.” People are invited to stay to ask questions or offer comments to the cast and crew. We heard this question over and over again: how could they? Some mused about power dynamics and racism. Others we’re aghast; angry at the miscarriage of justice. Still others believed that such a thing couldn’t happen anymore. We had moved beyond judging the colour of one’s skin. My own father, having never heard the story before, found me after the show and sadly said, “I really thought he was going to get off for the crime. It didn’t turn out how I hoped.”
I often return to the world of Maycomb, Alabama, the faces of Scout, Atticus and Tom, and the aching responses from the audience around the Advent season. It seems that we know in the deepest part of ourselves how the story “should” go; what the ending is “supposed” to be. It’s not just in a fictitious southern courtroom, it’s in the cancer diagnosis, the abusive relationship, the miscarriage, and in the ugly church split. It’s in all the ways that life didn’t go as planned where sadness and disappointment mar what once seemed so good and promising.
Hebrews 11:32-40 begins by recounting the faith and victories of our Old Testament forerunners who shut the mouths of lions, who were strong in battle, and whose loved ones were snatched away from death’s cold grasp. These are the endings we long for-strong, just and victorious. Yet the next set of verses tells a different story. We read about torture, prison and death. “How could they do it?”
Something in this big Story has gone terribly wrong. We know how the Story is supposed to turn out, and when it doesn’t, the grief is real and raw. Romans 8:22-24 speaks of this visceral mourning and longing of humankind for a different ending,
For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it). (NLT)
And so we can weep together. I can weep with Scout when justice is not served. I can weep with my five-year-old daughter who cries every time we read about Jesus’ death in her children’s Bible. I can weep with Rachel, whose cry is heard in Ramah, for her children are no more. I can weep with Jesus who cries at Lazarus’ death. And I can weep with the women at the foot of the cross when our Lord heaves his last breath. It is good to still be tender enough to weep and to make space for longing.
And yet, there is hope in the weeping. Hope that this Story can be different. We can hope that this innate sense that the ending should be different comes from somewhere. It comes from a God who re-writing the ending. A God who picked up a pencil and eraser and said, “No, no. Not this. This will not be the ending.” A God who broke the barrier of heaven and earth, with love, in human form. Jesus. Love in flesh and blood, tears and sweat. A love that promises us something better will be born out of our tears and sorrows. A love that offers hope for a New Story.
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