I’m curious today by a show of hands how many of you have traveled to NYC to see the Broadway production of the Phantom of the Opera. Keep those hands up. Now let me see if there are others of you that have been to the Kennedy Center or some other theatre and seen the musical stage production of Phantom of the Opera? One more. How many of you have seen one of the movie adaptations of the Phantom of the Opera? Great!
Well you are some of the people who have helped make the Phantom of the Opera one of the most well known and most popular entertainment enterprises in history, grossing over $5.6 billion. Which would blow the mind of Gaston Leroux the French author who wrote the original novel in 1910 because his book didn’t sell very well. It didn’t get good reviews. And he didn’t live to experience its great success.
The Musical version of the Phantom of the Opera was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe and premiered on stage in London in October 1986. The Phantom of the Opera has gone on to become the longest running musical in the history of Broadway by a wide margin, and celebrated its 10,000th Broadway performance in February 2012, the first production ever to do so.
Gaston Leroux based his novel on some mysterious events that occurred at the famous opera house in Paris. In the musical there are two main sets or playing areas, one being the Paris Opera House. The other playing area or set in the show is the Phantom’s underground lair which has to be gotten to by boat, a water canal.
In Gaston Leroux’s original novel the Phantom’s real name is Erik. And we learn the Erik had been an expert builder and architect and that he helped design and build the Paris Opera House. That’s why he knows every nook and cranny. Now we know why he can get around there so cleverly and mysteriously. In fact when he designed it he added trap doors and hideaways.
Erik was born with very deformed facial features. His father left the family, never ever seeing Erik as a child. And Erik’s mother abused him. When he was a boy Erik ran away and hooked up with a band of gypsies. He became part of their circus act, the carnival act – a sight for audiences to see known as the living dead.
He also becomes an expert magician and illusionist. And somewhere along the line he becomes a musical genius who lives beneath the opera house. But he also becomes more and more bitter and angry. And he starts to wear a mask to cover his appearance. He falls in love with a chorus girl. He decides that this girl will become the prima donna of the opera. And so posing as the angel of music he hides behind her dressing room mirror and gives her voice lessons. Which actually result in her becoming a wonderful singer.
Just as the Phantom’s plot to turn Christine into the prima donna is about to come to pass Raoul, a childhood sweetheart of Christine’s shows up. This prompts the Phantom to take Christine down to his lair beneath the opera house.
Take a look as we meet the Phantom of the Opera.
Clip: the Phantom of the Opera.
Once Erik, the Phantom, has Christine in his lair beneath the opera house he sings to her about the music of the night. Listen to some of the lyrics:
Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams
Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before
Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar
And you'll live as you've never lived before
Softly, deftly music shall caress you
Hear it, feel it secretly possess you
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness that you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night
Floating, falling sweet intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation
Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in
To the power of the music that I write
The power of the music of the night
The music of the night calls out to each of us. We are all prone to answer the Phantom’s siren call. Give in. Let go. The Phantom is the call of darkness, the temptation to close our eyes and give in to self-deception. It has a powerful pull that would seek to pull us down and ultimately destroy us.
Can I ask you this morning, what is the music of the night that you hear? What is the song of deception that enemy would sweetly sing in your ear, leading you, luring you away from the light and into the shadows, into the darkness?
The music of the night promises to hide the truth that we may not want to see. The Phantom suggests that ignoring the truth will set Christine free.
Of course if you’ve hung around the church long you know that Jesus teaches just the opposite. He invites us out of the night and into the light. He tells us that the truth alone has the power to set us free.
Now in the musical as we know the Phantom seeks to hide behind a mask. He wears it so that he doesn’t have to face the reality of all of his scars. But he also wears it in an attempt to seek to conceal it from Christine and everyone else.
The Phantom’s mask is a powerful symbol. But in the Broadway musical, Erik the Phantom is not the only one who wears a mask. In the wonderful chorus number Masquerade, the entire cast, everyone wears a mask.
Watch the clip: Masquerade
Did you catch some of the lyrics?
Paper faces on parade . . .
Hide your face,
so the world will
never find you!
breathing lies . . .
You can fool
any friend who
ever knew you!
When Jesus came into the world, he saw people wearing masks, and it bothered him. Of course, the most notorious “mask-wearers” of Jesus’ day were the religious leaders - the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They wore the mask of outward purity, a mask that said to everybody, “Look at me! See how clean and pure and godly I am. See my good works! Aren’t you impressed? See how I keep the Law. Don’t come too near me, for I am holier-than-thou!”
But all that pompous, pious talk, was phony. It was just a masquerade. They looked good outwardly, but inwardly, their hearts were made of stone. They talked loudly of goodness, but they kicked sand in the faces of the hurting people around them. They kept the letter of the Law, but missed the message of mercy and love, They were so busy holding their “I’m better than you” mask in place, they had no time or energy left over for compassion.
Jesus saw right through their pretensions and disguises, and he had strong words for them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which inside are full of the bones of the dead”.
He calls them hypocrites. Now today the word hypocrite has come to mean someone who says one thing and does another. But in Jesus’ day that word was taken from the masks Greek actors wore. They wore them to represent emotions that they wished to depict on stage. The actors hide behind the masks so that their own face wouldn’t betray the truth.
So the word for hypocrite means actor; actor in a negative sense, one who wears a mask. One who isn’t one’s true self. He’s upset because they’re pretending to be something that they’re not. There not being authentic.
Do you know the story of the signature half-mask that the Phantom wears in the Broadway show? In the novel and in almost every adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera Erik’s whole face is ruined, deformed. And he wears the full mask. And if you look at the main publicity photos and posters of the Broadway show you will see a full mask as you see in the photo in the corner of the slide.
But during rehearsals for the show the director, Hal Prince, realized that the audience would not be able to see any expressions of the Phantom’s face with a full mask and so they designed a half mask but it was too late for all the publicity and the advertisements. But that’s how it came to be – the half mask.
I think in our scripture lesson from today Nicodemus was wearing kind of a half mask. He was a Pharisee. One of those groups that Jesus called hypocrites. Yet he sincerely wanted to learn more about Jesus and His way of living. And so he met with Jesus. He came to see Jesus not by day but by the cover of the night; in secret. Again here we go covering up, this veil of secrecy not wanting to be open.
I think many of us, if not most of us wear this half mask from time to time. We want to be authentic. We want to be real. We know what’s right but fear gets to us. Fear of rejection. Fear of abandonment. Fear creeps in and we cover up. And we move then into the darkness. It keeps us from getting to know people and it keeps people from getting to know us. Even our family members. Sometimes especially our family members, those closest to us because we certainly don’t want them to reject us, right?
But wearing the mask of course is no way to live. Living in the darkness is no way to live. And that’s why Jesus came, to help us remove the masks. To help us live in the light. To be ourselves.
And how does that happen? How do we begin to remove the mask, stop the masquerade and live as he intends for us to live? I would like to suggest two things that I believe will help.
And the first thing is we must wise up. You see the problem with wearing masks is ultimately they don’t work. Even though we may be able to fool most of the people most of the time, we can’t fool everyone all of the time. And more importantly we can fool God at no time.
Think about it. If I put on this mask am I really a different person? If I put on this one does it change who I really am? When I put on this robe does it have any effect on what’s underneath?
If you get all dressed up in a suit and tie or your best dress and come here to church does that do anything for your heart?
If you change the outside does it really do anything for the inside? Absolutely not!
It’s a lot like a little child playing hide and seek with her parents, putting her hands over her eyes and saying, “Where is Sally?” In her little mind she may think that she is hiding, but in reality she is still there in plain view. We think it is cute and funny.
So the first step in living the life that God intended is to wise up and realize that to God our masquerade, our attempts to play hide-and-seek with him are futile and they are not funny.
And the second thing we must do is remember the unconditional love of God.
Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of darkness; wearing a mask. And Jesus invited Nicodemus to take off the mask and to step into the light. And listen to what he said to him. Jesus spoke to him these immortal words. He said, “Nicodemus, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
The great poet Mya Angelou who passed away recently when she was in her mid-twenties had lost herself. She was asking questions about her identity and then she found it in the family of God. And this is what she wrote in her book, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:
“In my 20’s in San Francisco I became a sophisticate and an acting agnostic. It wasn’t that I had stopped believing in God; it’s just that God didn’t seem to be around the neighborhoods I frequented…
One day my voice teacher… asked me to read to him. I was twenty-four, very erudite, very worldly. He asked that I read from Lessons in Truth, a section which ended in these words: “God loves me.” I read the piece and closed the book, and the teacher said, “Read it again.” I pointedly opened the book, and I sarcastically read, “God loves me.” He said, “Again.” After about the seventh repetition I began to sense that there might be truth in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me. Me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things, I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person with God, constitutes the majority?
That knowledge humbles me, melts my bones, closes my ears and makes my teeth rock loosely in their gums. And it also liberates me. I am a big bird winging over high mountains and down into serene valleys. I am ripples of waves on silver seas. I am a spring leaf trembling in anticipation.”
Did you hear that? What was it that set her free and enable her to remove the mask she was hiding behind? It was an encounter with the unconditional love of God – the one who sees behind our masks, who sees our scars, who sees us for who we really are and loves us anyway.
The climax of the show occurs when Erik has captured Christine, the girl he’s infatuated with. And he also captures her boyfriend, Raoul – who of course Erik despises.
The first time Christine had seen Erik without his mask on she was horrified – terrified of him. But in this climactic scene somehow she looks at Erik again without his mask on and she’s able to have great compassion and empathy for him. It’s not romantic love; it’s something better, something greater – its unconditional love. And Erik feels it. He sees it from her. And after he experiences this unconditional love, like the Beast in last week’s message, he has a bit of a transformation. And he decides to free Christine and Raoul. He lets them go and he even accepts there togetherness.
This kind of unconditional love that Christine expressed to Erik is how Jesus loved people. Having this great feeling of empathy. Looking at their warts and all and still loving them, eating with them and breaking bread with them. And in many cases like with Zachaeus the tax collector their lives are transformed. This is how Jesus calls us to love others – warts and all.
It’s also how God loves us – warts and all.
And we can be ourselves when we know in faith that we are loved and accepted for who we are, scars and all, by our creator.
In the musical one of the songs has always stuck out to me. It’s a love song. It’s the song that Robin and I sang earlier. In the musical this song takes place when Raoul seeks to reassure and promise Christine his unconditional love for her in the midst of her darkness and fear. And what I discovered as I listened to it many times over the years is that I believe we can also see and hear this song in another light.
Instead of it being a duet between Raoul and Christine I believe that you can hear it as a duet in which the first voice is the voice of God and the second voice is you and me. And it is still a love song, but I believe we can hear within its lyrics a deeper love than just the romantic love between two people it is meant to portray.
And instead of singing it again I have put it in the form of a litany that you will see on the screen behind me. This is pretty powerful when you hear it in this way – really pretty incredible – this is actually the lyrics of one of the song. I haven’t changed a thing. And I’d like us to experience it today as if God is speaking to and you are speaking to God. I will give voice to the first part and I invite you to respond with the second voice. Please follow along and join me and let us share this together:
No more talk of darkness
Forget these wide-eyed fears
I'm here, nothing can harm you
My words will warm and calm you
Let me be your freedom
Let daylight dry your tears
I'm here, with you, beside you
To guard you and to guide you
Say you'll love me every waking moment
Turn my head with talk of summer time
Say you need me with you now and always
Promise me that all you say is true
That's all I ask of you
Let me be your shelter
Let me be your light
You're safe, no one will find you
Your fears are far behind you
All I want is freedom
A world with no more night
And you, always beside me
To hold me and to hide me
Then say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime
Let me lead you from your solitude
Say you need me with you here, beside you
Anywhere you go, let me go too
Love me, that's all I ask of you
Say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime
Say the word and I will follow you
Share each day with me, each night, each morning
Say you love me
You know I do
Love me, that's all I ask of you.
Sermon Topics: Taking off Masks