“Time flies when you’re having fun!” Or as frogs might say: “time is fun when you’re having flies!” But if the fun suddenly stops and everything depends on your next move, the right words can be hard to find.
Vienna State Opera’s audience is captured by Richard Wagner’s romantic opera Lohengrin. Since it’s pronounced “low ‘n green,” our introductory frogs might place it on top of their charts; but that aside, it includes a much-loved bridal march that no wedding planner would dare to omit.
Operas seem to require farcical scenarios, as rich, powerful music ebbs and flows through absurd plots. But on this night farce reaches epic levels, just as Czech tenor Leo Slezak is poised to sing the final aria aboard a boat that glides off-stage, drawn by a huge swan.
Before Slezak can get on board an overeager stagehand activates the swan, which departs without him!
Cast members, onstage for this finale, glance at each other for a lead. In the orchestra pit, nervous musicians are looking up imploringly to their conductor, who knows that the audience’s stunned silence could quickly turn sullen or worse.
Slezak saves the moment with a stage-whisper that catches everyone’s ear: “Does anyone know what time the next swan leaves?”
Sometimes the right words just arrive like that; with no time to think. But great orators carefully prepare for maximum impact and to avoid verbal vandalism; maybe hoping for immortality, but never completely sure of iti.
“The world may little note what we say here,” Abraham Lincoln ironically observed in his famous 1865 Gettysburg Address, unaware of how the motivation and vision of his words could still inspire all who fight for justice.
In the dark days of 1940, with Britain isolated as the relentless juggernaut of Nazism’s vile hatred swept across Europe, many Britons were tempted to appease Hitler. But Winston Churchill’s defiant “We Shall Never Surrender” declaration shines on as a beacon that rallied the nation to fight on.
For many political analysts, Barack Obama’s presidency fulfils a prophecy from August 1963, when Martin Luther King Jnr’s passionate “I Have a Dream” speech refreshed the courage and persistence of thousands of civil rights workers who had gathered in Washington.
Speeches like these offer more than rhetoric, for they inspire hearers to act: not just a “Huh?” but a “Hey, why not?” Problems can become possibilities as people look beyond the emotional, financial or political quicksand that once intimidated them.
We may never save a grand opera, nor rally our nation to action. But at any time God may single us out to challenge apathy or injustice; to invite people into a new vision; or to get alongside those who have given up on themselves.
Such talk may not come easily; but as Proverbs 25:11 says: “Aptly-spoken words are like golden apples set in silver.” For these words can change people’s lives forever, as they deflate bullies; give victims new dignity; mobilise resources and dispel the insidious kind of blame that likes to get in the way – even when no-one’s at fault.
We may meet a “Huh?” along the way, but as we allow God to release his words, attitudes and actions into our connections with other people, his living water will flow; drawing them to his healing, his forgiveness and to a whole new life.
Yet the greatest “Huh?” of all time will never come to us, it will come from us!
Matthew 25: 31 – 45 relates how God will step in to wrap up this temporary part of our human history to separate the sheep from the goats; when he reveals how much he has been honoured as we have served the unlikely, the unwanted and the unwashed – those he calls the least of these his brethren – for then we will discover that we have actually done all this to him!
Our response will be: “Huh?”
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