Theology at the Theatre: Wicked
How many of you are familiar with the musical Wicked? It’s the newest one on our list, and the one that was the least familiar to me personally, although some of the music from the show has become so popular that you may know a few of the songs from the musical, like the one the choir sang, without even realizing where they were from. Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz is a musical that first opened in 2003. Written and Composed by Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwartz, and based on the 1995 book by Gregory Maguire. Of course, Maguire’s work is an alternative telling of the classic The Wizard of Oz.
Wicked opens with the people of Oz celebrating the death of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Someone in the crowds asks Glinda, the Good Witch, if it’s true that Glinda and Elphaba were once friends, and the question prompts Glinda to share the story. We flash back in time to when Elphaba and Glinda – then Galinda – both arrive at school, along with Elphaba’s sister Nessarose. Elphaba, who is born with the distinctive green skin that we see in The Wizard of Oz, is smart and skilled, and generally disliked by father and her classmates, especially the very pretty and popular but not-so-magically-skilled Galinda. At the start of the musical, then, Galinda and Elphaba do not get along, but after Galinda tries to make a fool of Elphaba by setting her up to wear a big black pointy hat, something no one else is wearing, Galinda feels bad and tries to make up for her mean behavior. Slowly the two young women become friends.
This lasts until Elphaba and Galinda meet up with the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard reveals himself as the man behind the curtain, and Elphaba realizes that he’s not a magician at all, and is in fact behind some of the horrible policies that have been taking over Oz. When it comes time to choose sides, Elphaba flees from the Wizard, but Galinda – who has changed her name to Glinda – becomes the public front for the Wizard’s regime. Ephaba becomes known as the Wicked Witch, and Glinda has become known as Glinda the Good. Many plot twists and turns unfold, including the appearance of a girl from Kansas named Dorothy, but finally, Glinda realizes the evil that is unfolding because she has been a part of the Wizard’s plans. She tries to stop harm from coming to Elphaba, but it is too late, and when the women finally meet again, they know that they will never see each other again. With this one last chance to talk, they forgive each other, let go of grievances, and talk about how they have changed each other’s lives.
In the song “For Good,” which we shared together today, they sing these words to each other: “I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason. Bringing something we must learn and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return. Well, I don't know if I believe that's true, but I know I'm who I am today because I knew you.” “Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But because I knew you I have been changed for good.”
“It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime so let me say before we part: So much of me is made of what I learned from you. You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart. And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine by being my friend.”
“And just to clear the air, I ask forgiveness for the things I've done, you blame me for. But then, I guess we know there's blame to share and none of it seems to matter anymore.” “Who can say if I've been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better. And because I knew you, because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
It’s a powerful song. On this All Saints Sunday, I’m wondering, who are the people, those who have come before, and those who are a part of your life right now, who are changing your life for the better, for good? And I’m wondering, too, whose lives are you changing for the better, for good, by your presence, your actions, your love, your gifts shared with them? There are a few lines from the traditional committal liturgy of a funeral, words I say at the graveside as part of a prayer that I find particularly meaningful, each and every time I say them. The prayer says: “Eternal God, you have shared with us this loved one’s life. Before she was ours, she is yours. For all that our loved one has given us to make us what we are, for that of her which lives and grows in each of us, and for her life that in your love will never end, we give you thanks.” The words of this prayer express our certain belief that we are shaped by the people in our lives, and that we continue carry them in our hearts and have our own futures shaped by their lives long after their time in this life is over, because truly, in God’s love, we believe that their life never really ends. We continue to change, continue to grow, continue to become the people God is calling us to be because of the people who are the saints in our lives, just as they, by our role in their lives, become or became who God was calling them to be. We have the opportunity to bless one another beyond measure through our loving impact on each other’s lives. What an opportunity for good we have! So I wonder – who has changed your life? And whose lives are you changing?
Our scripture reading from Matthew is a passage known as the Beatitiudes, a word that means “blessing.” Jesus shares these words at the very beginning of his longest chunk of teaching in the gospel of Matthew, a teaching we call The Sermon on the Mount. As he begins his teaching, the first things out of his mouth are these blessings. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Blessed are those who are reviled and persecuted. In Jesus’ day, as in ours, people needed reminding that the most meaningful blessings in life were not the racking up of accomplishments and distinctions. The most significant blessings that we give and receive are those that demonstrate loving, serving, compassionate hearts. Those are the blessings that change our lives, and transform our world, and demonstrate that the spirit of Christ lives within us.
Today, as we remember the saints, we share together in the meal of Holy Communion. One thing we celebrate when we come together for Holy Communion is just that – communion, small “c.” Communion. A community – a joining together of the whole Body of Christ across all times and places. We believe in the communion of saints – that is something we say every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed. Since we believe in resurrection, since we believe that God has the power of life over death, since we believe that all those who have died are at home with God, forever in God's care, we believe that we, Christ's Body, are united at the table across even time and space. When we come to the table, we come together with those who have gone before us, who shaped us, who shared in the faith with us, who have changed us for the better, for good, and who remain, with us, the Body of Christ. Communion is a holy place where we experience the limitless ways of God, time collapsed and space drawn together into one table. At the table, we are blessed to be in communion with all the saints.
As we worship, as we remember, as we share in the holy meal together, and as we leave this place and go into the world, let this be our prayer: Eternal God, you have shared with us the lives of these, our loved ones. Before they were ours, they are yours. For all that they have given us to make us what we are, for that of them which lives and grows in each of us, and for their lives that in your love will never end, we give you thanks. They have changed us for good, God. Let us go and do likewise. Amen.
 Schwartz, Stephen, “For Good,” Wicked. Lyrics found at https://play.google.com/music/preview/Trukvrkmczr2xoy5brbsekg5mn4?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-lyrics
 The United Methodist Book of Worship.