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COTTON PATCH GOSPEL | 2023 South Carolina Synod Assembly

By The Rev. Rebecca Wicker

“The world may be going to pot, but the story is crowned in glory.” This is the framework we are promised at the opening of The Cotton Patch Gospel, a musical that takes the gospel account from Matthew and places it in modern day Gainesville Georgia. At this year’s assembly, the 525 Players of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Columbia shared four scenes from this poignant re-telling.

The story opens with the nativity, but not with the familiar manger scene with sheep and shepherds that we draw towards at Christmas. Rather, Mary and Joseph find themselves on the road to Atlanta for an income tax audit from the IRS. But before they can make it, they find themselves at the Dixie Delite Motor Lodge with Mary in full labor. With no room at the lodge, Mary and Joseph must settle for an old trailer out back. This story may look like a humorous retelling on the surface, The Cotton Patch Gospel challenges us to wonder, “where will the story go next?”

The scenes that follow bring us to take a new look at the parable of the Good Samaritan. We see an insurance salesman left for dead by the side of the road. He’s picked up by a trucker only after being passed by a ‘prominent southern religious leader’ and a tour bus carrying a gospel choir on the way to record their next album. Following this scene, we see Jesus clearing the temple (in this case, a church office and a religious bookstore). While we may yet again find the retelling amusing, this brings up the question, “where would Jesus show up today?” More importantly, would we think to look at these out of the way places as sites where Jesus can be found?

In the fourth and final scene shared by the 525 Players, we find Jesus at a restaurant dining with his followers in a final supper. They hardly understand when Jesus hands them a biscuit with the instructions, “Bite this. This is my body.” However, later that evening when Judas (aka Judd) makes his way over, there’s an unfortunately relatable part of the story: betrayal. In a park behind the unnamed restaurant, Judd turns on his teacher, his friend. While we may look at the scenes that play out and find Gainesville or Atlanta to be wild places for the Son of God to show up, isn’t that the point? After all, Nazareth of Galilee was just as absurd a place for the Messiah to emerge. The Cotton Patch Gospel tells the story again with holy imagination and demonstrates how Jesus can meet us in relatable everyday life. We only need to keep our eyes open.

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