Hadestown | VII Easter
Updated: Jun 2, 2019
Next Sunday, live from Radio City Music Hall, New York City, the American Theater Wing will hand out the Tony Awards! The Tonys are a celebration of story and performance, recognizing excellence in live Broadway theater. James Gordon hosts the broadcast, live on CBS.
This year, nominated for 14 Tony Awards, is the musical “Hadestown.” “Hadestown” is an adaptation by Anaïs Mitchell of the ancient Greek myth which tells the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The musical, like our scripture this morning, invites us to consider where we find hope and love in the midst of suffering, grief and sadness. I believe the answer is simple but so easy to forget. At least, I forget, all of the time. On our best days, during moments when we are “on our game,” we remember to find hope and love through the people who surround us and from the God who created us.
“Hadestown” is set during the Great Depression. The staging is a New Orleans-like speak-easy where people secretly gather during the prohibition. They drink, dance, and sing together, seeking refuge and solace from the daily reality of poverty and suffering. Everyone is hungry, thirsty, and desperate to survive. Doubt, and the feeling of hopelessness, causes the people to drink away their sorrows.
Where do we find hope in the midst of suffering?
The Book of Revelation is an odd piece of scripture. But to those who encountered its visions of a new heaven and a new earth so many years ago, found hope it all of its bizarre images during troubling times. We encounter Revelation out of context, so it looses its power, ultimately becoming scary and troubling. What we know is that it addressed a group of faithful people living through unimaginable suffering and oppression. It provided hope to those encountering a shared experience of trauma that isn’t told to us.
Many believe it is a letter to seven churches written by John of Patmos. As visions overtake the writer, he is transported to the heavenly realm, where he witnesses hellfire, damnation, blasting trumpets, and burning rivers. The good are rewarded. Many are left behind. It seems apocalyptic. Foreign and mysterious to those of us who encounter these words today.
What is clear through these horrific visions is that the oppressed and forgotten are remembered by God. And the faithful are issued an invitation to come forward with confidence.
Do not be afraid.
“Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift. And the people cried out, 'Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!'”
“Hadestown,” narrated by Hermes, son of Zeus and the protector of travelers, opens the show, with the song “The Road to Hell,” singing: “It’s an old song. It’s an old tale from way back when. It’s a sad song. It’s a tragedy! It’s an old song. But we’re gonna sing it again.”
In the midst of Greek tragedy, the Book of Revelation guarantees that the faithful will see a new heaven, a new Jerusalem, because God is here, right now. God is with God’s people. We will be delivered from the great ordeal. Do I believe this or am I lost in doubt?
In the musical “Hadestown," Orpheus and Eurydice meet in the bar. Both are poor but believe their love can overcome any obstacle the Gods can throw their way. One of the patrons, Persephone, whenever she enters a room, brings with her the warmth and promises
of summertime. She encourages Orpheus and Eurydice to pursue their love. And they do.
Persephone is loved by everyone who knows her. Unfortunately, Persephone does not believe she deserves love. She doesn’t realize her own worth. Doubt comes in in. Taking over.
The Fates, portrayed by a trio of torch-song ladies, sing, “Doubt comes in and kills the lights. Doubt comes in and chills the air. Doubt comes in and all fall silent. It's as though you aren't there. Where are you? Where are you now? Hold on. Hold on tight.”
Persephone’s lack of confidence, coupled with her insecurities and her love of drinking, pushes her into a relationship with the ruler of Hadestown - King Hades.
Hades is the czar of a huge underground factory where the poorest of the poor slave away, building a wall under Hades’ direction. According to Hades, walls protect freedom, so we need to build a wall and hide behind it in order to be safe.
Hades questions his people, singing, “Why do we build the wall? My children, my children. We build the wall to keep us free. How does the wall keep us free? The wall keeps out the enemy. Who do we call the enemy? The enemy is poverty. And the wall keeps out the enemy. So we build a wall because they want what we have.”
When we build walls, are we protecting our freedoms? Do we find hope and love in the midst of suffering, grief and sadness? When we find ourselves trapped within the walls we’ve built around ourselves, and the walls close in around us, Jesus prays for us, saying, “The world does not know you, but I know you; and the people of God know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." Do not doubt but believe.
In the bar of “Hadestown,” Eurydice, like Persephone, believes her poverty defines her. She makes a deal with Hades. She will help build the wall, hoping that the cement which surrounds her heart will protect her from loving.
Orpheus believes that no wall can hold back the depth of the love he and Eurydice share, from busting through cement and bricks. Orpheus journeys to the underworld to rescue Eurydice from destructive thoughts of worthlessness and abandonment.
Will love and trust be enough to get them out of Hadestown? Or will doubt win?
In the speakeasy sitting precariously right above Hadestown, Hermes sings to the patrons,
“It’s a love song. It’s a tale of a love that never dies. It’s a love song about someone who tries..."
We are busy building walls. We are busy building prison walls.
Prison walls come down. In the Book of Acts, Paul is traveling all over the empire, organizing communities of hope in the name of Jesus. Some believe. Many are baptized. Some doubt. Can there really be a world where justice beats oppression, where love overcomes hate, where the poor and the suffering are taken care of by those who have much?
Paul believes love never dies. Because Paul has faith in Jesus, whom he believes causes love to transcend death and separation, Paul is put in prison. We build walls to protect us from the things we want to believe in but have never experienced. But even in our darkest night, God kindles the fire that never dies away..
In the midst of hell, surrounded by darkness, in a bar above Hadestown, Persephone prays a toast of hope. Persephone sings, “Pour the wine and raise a cup. Drink up, brothers and sisters, you know how. And spill a drop for Orpheus Wherever he is now... Some birds sing
when the sun shines bright... My praise is not for them... But the one who sings in the dead of night. I raise my cup to him..."
Where can we find hope and love in the midst of suffering, grief and sadness?
Locked behind the walls of a prison, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.” Paul and his fellow prisoners sit patiently, surrounded by walls that crashed down. Patiently waiting, listening, hoping to hear God share with them what God was building new. When walls come down, possibilities are endless.
There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain. I pray when I am trapped within the walls I have built around myself, I remember that.
Hermes, the God of the restless traveler, hopes we remember that. Hermes sings, It’s a sad song. It’s a sad tale. It’s a tragedy. It’s a sad song but we sing it anyway cause, here’s the thing: To know how it ends and still begin to sing it again as if it might turn out this time. I learned that from a friend of mine. Better go and get your suitcase packed. Guess it's time to go. Way down, Hadestown. Way down under the ground..."