Transitional Orchestration

Finishing anything is always really weird for me.  I don’t do transitions very well, so it’s less the ending that is hard; it’s the something else that gets me.  The past five summers, I’ve lived at camp for around eight or nine weeks straight, and even after that many summer-to-fall transitions, it never felt right that something should just exist and then not exist.  It never felt right that one day I should wake up at camp, caring for children and playing games with them, living with my best friends, having the responsibilities of so many parents’ worlds on your shoulders, and then the next day wake up at home, finished.  It doesn’t make sense that life shifts so quickly.

Tonight we finished up a two-week run of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical based on story of Joseph from Genesis.  I worked on the hair and makeup crew for this one, so I was really only part of it for these last two weeks.  It’s the second production I’ve worked on here at school, and I felt so at home with everyone, doing what I was doing.  And now we’re done.  Something that took a lot of people many months to build will begin to disintegrate tomorrow.  My roots didn’t even grow deep in this project, but there is still an uncomfortable tug as I walk away from it.

In Joseph, there is this wacky musical number called the Megamix.  It’s the finale, basically: most of the songs you just spent an hour and a half listening to are reprised as a disco-club beat thumps in the background.  When you think about it, it doesn’t make a lick of sense in the actual story (because really, the story is over and now you’re hearing the story again).  The thing with Joseph, though, is that you sort of assume that it shouldn’t make sense, so everything just seems normal.  Even so, one night I asked my friend what the purpose of the Megamix was.

“Probably because Jacob and Joseph’s brothers seeing Joseph again isn’t really much of an ending.”

Of course that is why Andrew Lloyd Webber and his musical cohorts wrote in the Megamix finale.  Because the audience needed a concrete ending.  I’m convinced that the reason musicals need big finishing numbers is because humans need eight or so minutes to prepare themselves for the world outside the theatre.  They need to be properly re-acclimated to life.  They have to know that a transition is coming.

I’ve been studying Joseph’s story in Genesis over the run of this show.  Really reading it, you know – looking for the point of it all.  I’ve seen the show about seven thousand times by now – I want to see the Truth from which it comes.  It’s this beautiful story of redemption, of God doing what God does.  His plans, His provision.

Sometimes I wonder what the real Joseph and his brothers would say if they came to see a production of the musical.  If they had a tagline for their lives, I don’t think it would be “any dream will do.”  Because just any dream won’t do a thing.  If Joseph taught us anything, it’s that his dreaming thing wasn’t a thing he just did – it was a thing God gave to him so that God could use Joseph to save lives.  I mean, Joseph even says so.

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream last night, and no one here can tell me what it means.  But I have heard that when you hear about a dream you can interpret it.”It is beyond my power to do this,’ Joseph replied.  ‘But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.'”

And then Joseph, a kid who was hated by his brothers, wrongly imprisoned in a distant country, kneeling before the king of Egypt (a man who could literally say one word to end Joseph’s life) – then he’s made into a prince.

But the Lord still isn’t done yet.

Years pass and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt, starved and dying.  Joseph, who recognizes them but is not recognized himself, now holds in his hands the power to punish the family who left him for dead.  Can you even imagine what must be going through Joseph’s head?  Countless nights he might have lain awake, first a teenager, then a young man, wrestling with a pain you and I probably can’t fathom: Why did they hate me so much?  Joseph may have found himself in the second most powerful position in the world, but that doesn’t mean he was alright.  Then, one day, all of his brothers are kneeling at his feet, fulfilling his dream, begging for his mercy.

He has to know.  Right?  Wouldn’t we all have to know?  Has anything changed?  Is anything different?  Did it hurt you as much as it hurt me? 

One of the most moving parts in Joseph the musical is the few transition seconds between Joseph accusing Benjamin of stealing his golden cup and Judah stepping up to sing Benjamin Calypso.  That is when the audience sees the pain on Judah’s face.  That’s when the audience knows something is different.

In the Bible, it’s clear that though Reuben is the eldest brother, Judah is the leader.  He calls the shots.  Reuben didn’t want to kill Joseph – he wanted to come back and rescue him.  But Judah concocted the plot to sell Joseph instead, making it look like a wild animal mauled his brother.  The reason Joseph was a prince in Egypt was because Judah, in his hatefulness, wanted to make some money and win some favor.  But God had better plans.

When Benjamin is accused, Judah offers up his own life instead.  Judah saw the torture Joseph’s “death” caused his father Jacob; he knew the loss of Benjamin would mean the death of Jacob.  He couldn’t do it again.  After all these years, Judah and his brothers were begging for mercy.  They were asking for Benjamin’s freedom in place of their own.

And then Joseph does the thing I might never have done.  He forgives them.  He weeps with joy, because the ones he has never stopped thinking about this entire time are back.  Every night, when I watched recognition dawn on Judah’s face, when I saw Joseph pick him up and hug him – this beautiful hug full of forgiveness and acceptance and strength and love – every night, chills flew up my arms at the sight.

The story could have been over then.  But as the Megamix began, awakening the audience to the reality on the other side of the theatre doors, all I wanted to think about was Jesus.

Because I am Judah.  I am the one who auctions off my affections to this world, searching for base satisfaction to supplant an everlasting love.  I’ve hurt the people I love and most of all I’ve hurt the God I need and long for.  But when I realize it – when I come crawling back to the Prince, begging for what small bone He can throw to me, begging for something to relieve the emptiness inside – that is when He pulls me up off the ground and wraps me in His arms and tells me it’s okay.  He tells me that even though I mess up, He means for good things to happen to me.  He quiets my confessions with mercy.  He feeds me with the bread of life.

I’m glad Andrew Lloyd Webber thought to give us time to transition.  I’m glad he didn’t send me out of the theatre without giving me time to think (thoughts set to clubbing music, no less).  I know tomorrow will not come with a soundtrack to warn me of impending changes, and there will be a tiny emptiness inside me as the stage returns to normal.

But I am so blessed to have been a small part of a production that reminds me of my iniquities and of God’s authority.  He doesn’t forsake us.  He doesn’t forget us, even when we forget Him.

Genesis 50:20      “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.”