Recently I went to see the award winning movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It traces the story of the band Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury, brilliantly played by actor Rami Malek, from its humble beginnings as a pub band through its meteoric rise to popularity in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Freddie died of bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS in 1991 when he was 45 years old.
Freddie’s birth name was Farrokh Bulsara. He was born in Zanzibar, then a British Protectorate, to Parsi Zoroastrian parents originally from Gujurat in India. He was sent to boarding schools in India and returned to Zanzibar in 1963 but he and his family had to flee the anti-Indian violence to England at the time of independence in 1964. He had immersed himself in western pop music and moved a long way from his parents’ religious conservatism. He legally changed his name in 1971.
Now I’m not going to tell you the whole story here. You should go and see the movie for that! Why I am talking about Freddie Mercury this morning is because of one scene in the movie. After a very difficult period of time when Freddie had launched a solo career, the band got back together in 1985 to play at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London in 1985 before an audience of 72,000 people and nearly 1.9 billion people around the world in support of famine relief in Ethiopia.
In the movie, just before the concert, Freddie and the band stop at his parents’ home. Although happy to see him, there is clearly a very strained relationship between Freddie and his father, Bomi. Freddie had strayed about as far away as was possible from the life his father had desired for him. In several scenes in the movie, Bomi had been seen glancing at the outrageously dressed Freddie in his shows but was not really able to accept that this was his son. Freddie’s sister tells her father that Queen is going to play at Live Aid and Freddie says, “We’re all doing our bit for the starving children in Africa…and nobody’s taking any money. Good thoughts, good words, good deeds. Just like you taught me, Papa.” There is a moment of silence and then the two men embrace. From the complete estrangement they had felt, these words bring them back together and into an embrace that says more than any words about the bond between them that had been restored.
Have you ever felt that embrace? After a long time apart – maybe someone close to you had been living a long way away and you go to the airport to welcome them home. When they come out of the doors and down the ramp, you rush to them and embrace and hold on as though you could never let go. Or perhaps there was an argument and a painful break in a relationship a long time ago. You have not spoken or been in touch for years, maybe decades. Finally you meet again and both of you recognize that whatever had broken your relationship so long ago no longer holds any meaning. All you want to do is to embrace and somehow overcome that gap of time that has kept you separated from the one you loved for so, so long. Or perhaps you have been In touch with a relative who you had not seen since you were a little child. All you have Is a fleeting memory of the smell of a kitchen or a loving smile. You are brought together again and it is as though you had never been apart. You embrace as your memory becomes present in the person whose arms are wrapped tightly around you.
Or perhaps a son has asked his father for his part of the inheritance. He knew it all. He wanted to get away from the farm and all its chores and routines. He didn’t want to end up like his boring older brother. He wanted to live. To get away to the big city and live the life that he had heard of and dreamed of for years. He was willing to treat his father as if he were dead – for that is when an inheritance is given. But he didn’t care. He just wanted the money and to be free. He could not get through the gate and down the road fast enough and when he got to the city he had a great time. He could do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and there was no lack of friends who were happy to join him. But the money didn’t last long. There was a downturn in the economy and his bank account ran dry. He had to work and since he had no real training and there were not many jobs out there, he ended up feeding pigs, the most degrading and disgusting job possible for him. And even then he was hungry and imagined eating the pig food. What a fool he said to himself. I will go back to my father and endure his wrath. I will beg for forgiveness and surely will at least eat better and sleep better than I am doing here. So he goes back. He did not know what to expect. He sees the gate that he had not so long ago escaped through. But he also sees his father running toward him. He does not know whether to fight or flee. But to his surprise, his father throws his arms around him and embraces him. He cannot believe it but his arms go around his father and he hold him close and all they can feel is love for each other.
Have you felt that embrace? It overcomes time and space. It overcomes hurt and pain. It overcomes estrangement and hatred. It is love embodied.
We have to be careful with this story though. Because we do not know the whole story. We do know that the older brother is none too happy to see the reconciliation between his father and his younger brother. Has no desire to go to the party to welcome his useless brother home. We hear his angry words to his father and we do not know where the story will lead. We also do not know what will happen to the younger brother. He is welcomed home, yes. But will he stay? What is there for him now his inheritance is gone? Will he be content to be back on the farm? Maybe he will just get back on his feet and leave again, perhaps with a better plan. The embrace is not the end of the story. It is a turning point. A new beginning. But without it there is no story.
It would have been difficult for the scribes and Pharisees to hear this story. Remember they were very concerned about the company that Jesus was keeping. Don’t hang out with those folks. They are beneath you. They will only bring you trouble. They’re not like us. They’re scoundrels. Kind of like that younger son. Yet, these are the ones we are to embrace. These are the ones that Jesus embraces. This is what is new in the kingdom of God. It is the least expected one who is welcomed most heartily into the new community. Those of us who feel we have a place, in fact feel we have the only place and that we call the shots, are not very happy with this embrace. Why are we not experiencing this? Why don’t we get a little recognition for all that we do and have done and will do? We forget all the goodness and all the blessings that have been poured upon us. We forget the love and compassion we have known. We forget the embrace we have known. We forget that we too can offer an embrace to those most unlikely folks and welcome them into our company.
Have you felt that embrace?
The apostle Paul wrote to the forgetful Corinthians, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” In Christ, God has embraced us. Has not worried about what we have done or where we have been, what we are wearing or whether we have been forced to feed the pigs. But has embraced us without question and has reconciled us to the love and with the love that is at the very heart of the universe. It is the turning point. The unexpected and unbelievable embrace that sets us on a new path and opens up the possibilities for us to embrace the world in reconciliation. This is good news in a world that has not felt embrace. That has judged those who are different or who have been seen to be lesser. That has refused to celebrate the possibilities of new beginnings for those who find themselves on the margins. That is only concerned with what it lacks and not what it can give.
But we have this message for the world, “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”
Thanks be to God. Amen