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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Drawing the sting of evil

Early start this morning for the London train. So you will have to read this quickly. We are heading for the Southbank Centre where granddaughters, Anastasia and Joy, are performing in Brundibár, a children’s opera presented by the Mahogany Opera Group. No doubt Jacqui will weep copiously. The story line, which I now paste from the programme, features brother and sister Pepíček and Aninku who are too poor to buy milk for their sick mother. They sing for money in the street, but the evil organ grinder Brundibár chases them away. With the help of a fearless sparrow, clever cat, wise dog and the children of the town, Pepíček and Aninku are able to overcome Brundibár and sing in the market square: “We’ve won a victory, over the tyrant mean, Sound trumpets, beat your drum, and show us your esteem! We’ve won a victory, since we were not fearful, since we were not tearful, Because we marched along, singing our happy song.” Sounds cheerful enough, but now that I know the background of this opera I too will be shedding some tears. It was written by Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása in 1938 around the time, as I blogged last week, that Neville Chamberlain was handing over part of his country to Hitler. The first public performance of this playful opera was given by the children of Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. They gave no less than 55 performances. In 1944 the production was filmed for a Nazi propaganda film. As soon as filming was finished the participants were herded into cattle trucks and sent to Auschwitz. Most were gassed immediately upon arrival, including the children, the composer Krása, the director Kurt Gerron, and the musicians. However, the opera survived. There is something deeply, deeply troubling about children, young children, being not just murdered but deliberately slaughtered. They could be my grandchildren who this very afternoon will be performing Brundibár (that’s Czech for bumblebee). I cannot conceive of anything more evil. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” This lament comes from the prophet Jeremiah (31: 15) following the horrific sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s army.

Some six centuries later it was used by Matthew (2:18) to give context to Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem. For this is the world into which Jesus was born. For reasons of public decency Nativity plays invariably end with the wise men offering their gifts to the baby Jesus. The curtain then falls as parents and grandparents break into applause – but the story of Jesus’ birth is not yet finished. For in the shadows of the stable lurks the menace of Herod’s megalomania. The storyline turns nasty as baby boys are slaughtered. And soon the holy family are fleeing for their very survival from this cruel and powerful tyrant. Just three weeks ago we marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Such is its horror you cannot give an answer to ‘Why Auschwitz?’ Except to say that this is the world, this dysfunctional and disordered world, into which God, such is his love for us, sent his Son. And at his cross Jesus draws the sting of death. That is, his death, our sting. So the apostle Paul dares to rejoice: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55) We too can celebrate a victory over the tyrant mean, even the conquest over our most feared foe, the very power of evil. So now nothing in this entire creation - not Nebuchadnezzar, not Herod, not Hitler - will be now able to separate us from God’s remarkable love which is ours in Jesus our risen Lord.

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