A Beautiful City

Elizabeth and I just watched the 1981 movie Godspell (based on the musical by the same name) a retelling of Matthew’s Gospel set in modern day New York City.  It’s a beautiful, creative and imaginative piece that breathes new life into the text.

I was struck immediately by a scene earlier in the film where Jesus and the disciples (both men and women) create their home, their church, out of an abandoned junk yard.  They clean and repaint everything from the tattered shed to the battered car on cynder blocks with bright colors–yellow, red, green, orange and blue. Jesus also paints colorful crosses and other symbols on their faces, marking them for discipleship. While they work on the junkyard, Jesus and the disciples sing songs to God and tell stories to one another, parables about how to live in the loving and just kingdom of God rather than remain captive to the cruel and unjust system of the world.

As Jesus or one disciple tells a story the others act it out, using their imaginations and junkyard pieces as costumes and props. The disciples are invited by Jesus to transform their lives and the world around them by using both their hearts and imaginations to love, inspire and heal those around them.  And they continue telling stories and acting out the parables as they leave the junkyard and joyfully tramp across New York City for the day with Jesus.

In a scene toward the end of the film, Jesus and the disciples, who are on their way home, began singing the song “A Beautiful City” created specifically for the movie. The song reflects how they started on the journey; what they learned on the way and what they must do long after Jesus has left them.  It is a perfect bookend to the earlier scene where they transform the junkyard into their church:

Come sing me sweet rejoicing
Come sing me love
We’re not afraid of voicing
All the things (all the things)
We’re dreaming of (we’re dreaming of)
Oh, high and low,
And everywhere we go (everywhere we go) We can build (we can build)
A beautiful city (a beautiful city)
Yes we can
Oh yes we can
We can build (we can build)
A beautiful city (a beautiful city)
Call it out

The junkyard scene and the song “A Beautiful City” gave me hope for the Church and made me wonder about what the Church could look like if we truly threw away our pretentiousness and became silly foolish followers of Jesus.  What would the Church, which often seems like a junkyard these days, look like if we painted it and our faces with bright colors? What would the Church look like if we listened more, laughed more and played more? What would the Church look like if we live out the scriptures more from our imaginations and hearts rather than our stuffy dusty ole brains? What would the Church and the world look like if we weren’t afraid to sing with sweet rejoicing all of the things we were dreaming of?

I imagine it would be beautiful, wouldn’t you?

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3 thoughts on “A Beautiful City”

  1. That’s actually what I remember church being like when I was in HS …when we performed Godspell as worship one Sunday! The congregation was up on their feet…swaying to the music…clapping their hands and singing along…and smiling! Whatever happened to smiling in worship?? Those were the days!! 🙂

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