A Look Back at 'Lazarus'
"One has risen from the dead, and rich Christians confess this at their table, and yet poor Lazarus, in millions, continues to hunger and to perish from hunger at their door. The point of this parable is not, as is often suspected, the consoling pipe-dream of heaven for poor Lazarus. It is addressed exclusively to the rich man. It is not meant to console the poor with the hope of recompense beyond the grave, but to warn the rich of damnation and to incite them to hear and act in the world." —Helmut Gollwitzer, from The Rich Christians and Poor Lazarus
I have been involved in Bread for the World for more than 30 years, and some of my best memories include attending a handful of performances of Lazarus, a musical written by Joel Underwood. Joel served in many capacities at Bread (including as director of church relations), but his musical based on Luke 16: 19-31 is part of the strong legacy he is leaving for our grassroots anti-hunger movement.
My experiences of Lazarus include two very different but powerful interpretations of the musical. I had the privilege of watching a gospel version of the play performed by a very talented cast at Mount Carmel Church of God in Christ in Kansas City, Kan. Marie Frasure, who was part of the leadership team for Bread in the Kansas City area during the '80s and '90s and a member of Mount Carmel, was the one who convinced the church's musical director Paul Sims to take on this endeavor.The other adaptation of Lazarus that I attended was in the Albuquerque area, at Rio Rancho Presbyterian Church. This was a much smaller, but equally compelling, version. Rev. Kay Huggins, a Bread member and pastor of the church at the time, was the one who brought the play to our community. There have been many other versions of Lazarus performed around the country over the years, including a one-person show by Harriet Harlow Larsen (with accompaniment by Lou Ann Rice).
On June 8, a revival of Lazarus will premiere at the Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C. This revival version will kick off Bread for the World's National Gathering this year. This revival version keeps the lyrics of the songs intact, but noted musical director Dr. Bill Cummings added a contemporary touch to the arrangements.
There is good news and bad news regarding the Washington, D.C. performance. The good news is that the show is sold out: While many of those in attendance are Bread for the World members participating in the National Gathering, there are many others from the Washington-Baltimore metro area who will experience this story in words and music. And the bad news is: the show is sold out. But hopefully there will be additional opportunities to see the new Lazarus.
Carlos Navarro has been a Bread member for over 20 years and has led Bread’s presence in New Mexico for the last decade. He maintains the Bread for the World New Mexico website and blog, and serves on the Bread for the World board of directors.
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