“We have scorched the snake, not killed it,” Macbeth.

During the week, as part of our Diocesan Ministry Conference, we were treated to a night out at the Pop-up Globe Theatre for a viewing of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Strangely, despite studying Shakespeare at school and University, I’d never been exposed to the “Scottish Play,” and my only knowledge of its plot came from the first season of Blackadder! So, both the unique context of the Pop-up Globe and the play’s script hit me fresh this week.

The next day, we had a fascinating discussion with the Theatre’s artistic director, Miles Gregory, discussing the potential resonances between theatre and church. It got me wondering why I found Shakespeare’s plays so powerful when I first experienced them as a teenage student. I think it has to do with the way that he brings the full drama of life — in both its personal and social dimensions — out into the open, and expresses that drama so clearly. I remember as a teenager feeling the discomfort of the characters, often royalty, as they bared their innermost thoughts and watched their lives unravel in public. But there was also something liberating about that process, a naming of life as it really is, rather than the surface tension of polite society. In fact we see a similar pattern in the lives of biblical heroes too, people like Moses, King David and Jesus.

And therein lies the most powerful connection between theatre and church. Both seek to name the full drama of life, to compress and express it in an abbreviated window so that we can see it more vividly than in the slow motion of our daily lives. As Christians, we also witness to a multi-layered drama, a Cosmic duel played out on an Eternal stage. During the play on Thursday night, one line leapt out at me with neon clarity and has stuck with me ever since. As his opponents circle, Macbeth says: “We have scorched the snake, not killed it.” He means that they have killed many enemies, but not enough to protect them. This line sums up the drama we find ourselves in as followers of Jesus in the time between his coming and his coming again. The serpent has been mortally wounded, but he still remains active for a time. And so we live in the tension between our present/future resurrection lives and our present trials.

As we journey towards Easter, when we celebrate the ultimate victory Jesus won for us, we’ve been focusing on what a life of radical faith looks like in “this time between the times.” And we find that biblical faith takes humility (true perspective about who we are and who God is), courage (responsiveness to God’s invitation in spite of our fear or the risks involved), and awareness of the nature of the drama that we find ourselves in. As we face the inevitable challenges and bogs of life, we walk with the bold assurance that although the auld serpent is not yet vanquished, unlike Macbeth we have the armies of heaven on our side and a sure path ahead.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant