On Faith: The Cost of Living Sumptuously Every Day
The Message of 'Lazarus: The Musical'
By Felicia Kessel Crawley
"Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God."
Whether you are a believer or not, most people have heard of Lazarus from the Bible, probably the one whom Jesus raised from the dead. But that’s not the Lazarus I’m talking about. There's actually another guy named Lazarus. The name is derived from Hebrew and translates as Eleazar — "God is my help."
The Message: 'I've Got the Hunger and Poverty Blues'
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus paints a pretty dismal picture of this Lazarus as a poor beggar, full of sores licked by dogs, who lies at the foot of a rich man's gate, desiring to be fed only with the crumbs from the rich man's table. Ignored by the rich man and his family, Lazarus dies from hunger and is carried off by angels to paradise, the honored place called Abraham's bosom in the Old Testament.
The rich man also dies, is buried—sans angelic escorts—and wakes up in torment in Hades, a.k.a. hell. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus with water to "cool his tongue" from the heat of the flames. Unable to cross over, Father Abraham reminds him of how he had lived "sumptuously every day" while poor Lazarus begged for bread outside his gates.
In Bread's musical, Lazarus, the rich man, called Dives, is shown his covetous ways in a dream sequence, awakes, and thoroughly repents. Grateful for the grace that spared him from eternal torment, his just punishment for a life of self-indulgence, he puts out a clarion call to family and friends to heed the call, share the wealth, and feed the world.
While not as mystical as raising someone from the dead, the message of Lazarus: The Musical is simple but powerful: We can and must end hunger! Are we truly prepared to pay the cost of living sumptuously every day while one in every eight people on Earth goes to bed hungry each and every night?
Lazarus delightfully encourages us to step up to the challenge of ending hunger in our lifetimes or else.
Revival, Celebration, and Honor
Lazarus: The Musical was written by Bread for the World staffer Rev. Joel Underwood in 1986 and performed thousands of times around the world.
It was revived by Bishop Don diXon Williams, Bread's national associate of African-American church engagement. Williams contacted his childhood friend and well-known music director Dr. Bill Cummings, who contemporized the musical with new and driving musical arrangements.
The 2013 premier of the revival at Washington, D.C.'s Mead Center for American Theater was so successful that Bread chose to celebrate its 40 anniversary and Williams’ retirement after his 26 years at Bread with another powerful performance of the show on May 31 in Washington, D.C.
It is hoped that recent performances of the revived Lazarus will inspire a new generation to fight hunger.
Felicia Kessel Crawley is the founder of Kessel Music Ministries and Voices of Worship Choir and Musical Ensemble. She serves as minister of pastoral counseling at Beacon Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Herndon, Va. She was the co-director and principal pianist for the May performance of Lazarus.