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The musical of my life
And now for a short break from our regular programming…
It’s no secret that I am an unashamed, unabashed, unapologetic Les Misérables tragic. My family good-naturedly roll their eyes when I inform them that I’m off to see the latest production (professional, amateur, school… I’ll happily watch them all). My friends often poke well intended meme fun at me about it on facebook. But at the end of the day (see what I did there?), I’ll happily take it all. I just love Les Mis. A lot.
I was first introduced to the musical around 25 years ago via… are you ready for it? Brace yourselves. Don’t say I didn’t warn you… a mixed tape. Yes. A literal mixed tape. A mixed tape given to me by a guy. A guy I had a crush on. (Apparently he and I were far too cultured to share mixed tapes featuring East 17, Boyz2Men and the Spice Girls). Though I had a heart full of love for him (OK. So that’s a massive overstatement, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by), our fairy-tale romance was destined to be as ephemeral as a castle on a cloud (I’ll stop now. Maybe). But I’ll remain forever grateful for him introducing me to the favourite musical in my life (Admittedly, that one is a somewhat obscure reference) ...because the truth is, I just love Les Mis. A lot.
I’ve lost count of the number of live productions I’ve seen, but it would have to be over 30. If I lived in London or NYC (i.e., cities where I could pop out to catch a performance anytime I felt so inclined) I'd probably need to seek counselling... and a bank loan! As it is, every time I watch it, I realise that it’s a good thing that the cast can’t see the audiences’ faces, because surely they’d be thrown off their game by the crazy lady who sits there grinning at them for the whole 2hrs and 50mins. But I can’t help it. I just love Les Mis. A lot.
In all honesty it’s a bit of an obscure musical to love. It’s set in an unfamiliar time, in an unfamiliar country, in an unfamiliar period of social crisis. There is pretty much no spoken dialogue. It’s all musical, all the time. It’s long. The storyline is complicated and covers a lot of years in a short period of time. And yes, I’m still talking about Les Mis and not Hamilton. (Oh, and while we're on that subject, for the record, Les Mis had the turntable stage a good 25 years before Hamilton poached the idea. So there). But despite all this, I love Les Mis. A lot.
Here’s why I love it, as told in both words and song.
While Les Miserables is the story of a 19th Century french convict, turned millionaire mayor, turned wealthy social recluse name Jean Val Jean, it is also so much more than that.
Les Mis is the story of sin. Of our own sin (think, young Val Jean), and the sin of others (think, Fantine). Of the human propensity to revel in our sin (think, the Thénardiers). Of a sinful world’s unending cycle of despair (think, young Cosette and Éponine). Ultimately it’s a story of the way that we humans are entrapped in slavery to our sin and its devastation.
Les Mis is the story of the law. Of that which seeks to define, demarcate and deter sin (think, Javert). It’s the story of right and wrong. Of black and white. Of truth and justice. Of punishment and parole. Ultimately it’s a story of the way the law can only serve to convict us of our sin, rather than free us from its tyranny.
Les Mis is the story of our longing for freedom (think, Marius, Enjolras and all the students). It’s the human yearning for things in this world (including ourselves) to be put right. For corruption and evil to be overcome. For justice, fairness and kindness to reign. And ultimately it’s a story of the realisation that such a future is not one that belongs to this world.
Les Mis is the story of grace. Of that undeserving act of loving kindness (think, the bishop). It’s the story of a costly sacrifice that is itself an act of mercy. That brings forgiveness. That brings redemption. That brings hope. Ultimately, it’s a story of the absolute necessity of grace as that which breaks the unending cycle of sin, which trumps the limitations of the law and which offers true freedom from the binding chains of our fallen nature in this fallen world.
And finally, Les Mis is the story of rebirth (think, Val Jean). It’s the story of grace’s transformative power. Of sanctification. Of new life. Of a changed life. Ultimately it’s the story of a life which looks back at its sinful past and says “No more. I am no longer that person. By his grace, God has made me into someone new. Someone called to live for him”.
As a Christian, I love Les Mis. I love it because in its story I see my story.
The story of someone who had turned her back on God and was a slave to sin; someone who stood rightly convicted by God under the judgement of the law; someone who longed for freedom in this fallen world; someone who has been redeemed by grace in Christ alone; someone who has, in him, been born again and is being transformed into his likeness by the power of the Spirit. Someone who not only longs to see the world beyond that barricade, but rejoices in the sure hope that one day she really will. And not because of anything she has done, but because of what Jesus did for her.
The final line of sung dialogue in Les Miserables belongs to Val Jean, Fantine and Eponine who together call upon the audience to:
Remember the truth that once was spoken, To love another person is the see the face of God.
As a younger Christian I always found myself just slightly disappointed by that ending. As the conclusion to such a tremendously powerful narrative it felt a bit of a cliché. A bit of a platitude. A bit naff.
However, as I’ve matured as a Christian I’ve come to appreciate what a magnificently wonderful summary those words are, both of the storyline of Les Mis itself but more importantly of the gospel. For they remind me of some other words:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. - 1 John 4:10-12
Now, every time I listen to Val Jean, Fantine and Eponine harmonise that final line I close my eyes and I do as they say.
I remember that this was indeed a truth once spoken. It was a truth spoken by the living Word himself, the one who willingly became an atoning sacrifice for my sin, so that I might know what love truly is… and so that I might truly be one who love others.
This is why I love Les Misérables.
This is why it is the musical of my life.