A short history of time: Act 1 of 3 - by James Archer

An evening of sketches presenting the gospel from Genesis to Revelation

 

Contents

 

ACT ONE

 

Introduction including an extract from Messiah by Georg Handel

 

Angel Space by Paul Burbridge and Murray Watts from Lightning Sketches, published by Hodder & Stoughton

 

Paradise Lost

One Man and His Dog

Field Trip to the Sinai Desert

The Cycle of the Old Testament including two songs from Songs and Hymns of Fellowship

 

Introduction

A group of angels including Gabriel and Herion, dressed in white, enter and form a circle around an imaginary throne in heaven, before which they continually bow down.  Music – the first page of the Hallelujah Chorus, with which the angels join in.  As the music fades, the angels say, together or in a stylised format:

 

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.  You are worthy, o Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and praise, for you created all things.  To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever.  Amen

 

End of prayer meeting.  All angels depart except for Gabriel, who stays on stage in the background to clear up.  Re-enter Herion for Angel Space.

 

Angel Space

(From Lightning Sketches by Paul Burbridge and Murray Watts, published by Hodder & Stoughton.  Part of Raphael changed to Gabriel, ending changed so that Herion departs and Gabriel stays on stage.)

 

(Herion enters without seeing Gabriel, looking round and above the audience, at first cautiously, then with an increasing sense of wonder)

 

[Text of drama]

 

Gabriel continues to tidy up, looks up, sees the audience, starts, gets himself ready and addresses them:

 

Good evening, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  I’m sorry, I had forgotten you were coming here tonight.  Have you been waiting long?  My name is Gabriel, and I am a messenger of the Lord God Almighty, the King of the Universe, whose name is for ever blessed.  A Short History of Time, you asked for.  Well, I’m not really qualified for that one.  You see, I live in Eternity, for ever praising the Lord of Heaven, to whom be glory for ever.  I visit the world of Time occasionally, passing on messages, so here goes:  Once upon a Time, …………… No, I think you would understand better if you heard the story from your own flesh and blood.  So, without further ado, bring on the clowns!

 

Gabriel withdraws to the background as two clowns enter to perform Paradise Lost.

 

Paradise Lost

(This sketch is performed by two clowns acting as narrators in rhyming couplets.  For ease of presentation, the part of the first clown is in normal script and of the second in italics.  The final three words are said by both of them.  It could be done by one person, and was originally written to have interruptions from a heckler on the floor, which could be inserted)

 

In days of old, ere we were born,

When earth had scarcely taken form,

There lived a gardener, Adam named,

Who over all creation reigned.

His servants were the cherubim;

The Lord was very good to him.

He gave him gifts of fish and birds,

Of fruit and veg, of flocks and herds,

Of trees and shrubs, of sun and shade,

And set him in a lovely glade.

Four rivers clear through Eden wound

And water sprang up from the ground.

With crops and flowers the land was filled,

With wheat and grass and daffodils,

With strawberries and edelweiss;

Yes, Adam was in paradise.

 

The Lord, who saw he was alone,

Gave him a wife to cheer his home;

But Adam wasn’t satisfied –

One thing God had him denied –

An apple pleasing to the eye,

But God had said, “You’ll surely die

If of that tree you take your pick,

You’ll wish you hadn’t pretty quick.

You must not eat, for if you do

You’ll know what’s bad and what is true.”

 

Adam’s wife was tricked the first;

Adam soon found out the worst –

She’d lost the glory she’d been given,

And chosen not to live in heaven.

Adam saw her radiance dim,

But chose to join her in her sin,

Preferring what he knew was banned

To living happy in God’s land.

 

The Lord was walking in the wood.

He walked right past where Adam stood.

He summoned Adam (who had hidden

And would not do as he was bidden)

To come and meet Him face to face,

But Adam, knowing his disgrace,

Was not prepared to be so rude

As meet the Lord when he was nude.

He pulled down fig leaves from a tree

So God his bareness would not see.

But all his efforts were for nought –

By simple tricks God is not caught.

He asked him why he had to hide

When God approaching he espied.

Had he eaten of the fruit

That let the devil take his root

Inside his heart?  Had he defied

God, on whose bounty he relied?

 

Adam, fearing for his life,

Laid the blame upon his wife.

Eve in turn said she did take

The fruit on offer from a snake!

(As tall a story, I should say,

As any I have heard today)

But the Lord could not be fooled.

He saw that in them Satan ruled.

He could not bear to hear their lies

Echo round his paradise.

He swore that Adam should be bound

To toil for food in stony ground;

Eve’s children she should bear in pain,

And neither in Eden would remain.

A sword would guard the tree of life

From banished Adam and his wife.

But God still loved, despite their sin,

And made them clothing out of skin.

 

In later years God sent His Son,

Who victory over Satan won;

By dying helpless on a cross

He suffered to redeem our loss.

But God forbid that we should stay

To tell you all of that today.

I quite agree; we haven’t time

To fill your heads with much more rhyme.

But if your interest has been stirred,

You’ll find the story in God’s word.

 

Gabriel comes back onto frontstage to address the audience as clowns exeunt.

 

In God’s word, that’s right.  Have you read it?  All of it?  No!?  The Most High God – praise His holy name – squeezed His message into one book, and you haven’t even bothered to read it!  Well I never!  We’ve only reached page four, and you poor time-bound creatures haven’t got the patience to listen to all of it.  So we’ll have to miss out most of the juicy bits – sorry, Noah – and move on to Father Abraham.

 

One Man and His Dog

(This could be performed either as a monologue with the presenter as story-teller half acting out the story, or with a second actor (perhaps even with a dog) taking the part of the Shepherd, with whistles etc)

 

(Theme music from the television programme One Man and His Dog)  Good evening, and welcome to One Man and His Dog.  This evening we pay a nostalgic visit to two of the earliest participants in the programme at home in their retirement, and ask what it is that makes the relationship between man and dog so special.

 

So, here we are in the farmhouse on the slopes of Mount Zion.  Father Abraham is stretched out on a rug in front of a roaring log fire.  As I enter, he turns round, wags his tail, gets up, and hobbles over to greet me; then goes back to his rug as if to tell me to take a seat and enjoy the fire.  Seated comfortably, a door opens behind me, and the bleatings of a flock of sheep on the hillside float towards me on the breeze.  I turn, and there, framed in the doorway, is the Good Shepherd himself.  His hair is as white as snow, and he is dressed in a simple robe which reaches down to his feet, with a gold sash around his chest; his face is ruddy and glistens with good health, and I am struck by the intensity of his eyes as he smiles a greeting to me.  “Welcome to Paradise!” he booms, and I feel at once very welcome and very humble in the presence of one who is truly great.  Abraham, hearing the voice, jumps up and bounds across the room as if he were still a puppy, all his aches and pains forgotten in his eagerness to greet his Master.  The Shepherd bends down and ruffles the old dog’s fur affectionately, then lowers himself into an armchair, whereupon the dog clambers into his lap and snuggles down comfortably.

 

I ask the Master what he remembers about the programme that made Abraham a household name.  “It was a tough course, and Abraham was only newly trained to the whistle.  The sheep were miles away in rich pasture.  The pick-up from Ur went smoothly, but when they got to the gate onto the open moor at Haran the sheep didn’t want to go through – they just stared at Abraham and pretended that they didn’t understand what he wanted.  He lost one of them there, but eventually got the others moving again.  He got them quickly into the ring at Bethel, and then it was time for the pairs event.  I teamed him up with his mate Sarah, and they took the sheep down to the river at Egypt.  Abraham was frantic because Sarah got caught in a trap, and I had to go down and rescue her.  In the end they got the sheep back to the pen at Beersheba.  They were the only ones who managed to finish the course.”

 

As he finishes, he strokes Abraham’s head, leans over, and whispers in his ear, “Puppies, Abraham, puppies!”  The dog lets out a moan, almost a purr, of pleasure at the thought.  “Old Faithful, I sometimes call him,” the Shepherd continues, “my first and favourite dog.  We worked the farm together until it was time for him to retire, and now he lives with me in my house.  Whatever I say or do, he trusts me and obeys me.  A very special dog!”

 

Special snores, too.  I slip out quietly so as not to disturb him as he sleeps.  Out in the farmyard, the Shepherd’s son is training up a young sheepdog called Isaac.  He has Father Abraham’s distinctive nose – perhaps this is the puppy the old dog is dreaming of.  (Theme music returns) 

 

(At the end of the sketch, Gabriel continues)

 

Well, after Abraham died, things went from bad to worse.  Deception, family bust-ups, revenge, attempted murder – no wonder God was cheesed off with them.  So He let the king of Egypt treat them like slaves, and then He performed some amazing miracles to show them who was boss.  Great sense of humour, God has – I mean, which of you would have thought up a plague of frogs?  Even when He killed all their eldest sons, the Egyptians wouldn’t let the people leave, so God cut a wedge out of the Red Sea and told the people to walk through it on dry land.  When the Egyptians tried to follow, He let them half way in and then ambushed them.  Not fair really, but you shouldn’t try to mess God about – He always wins.  Not that the Israelites remembered that for long – ungrateful wretches.  Listen to them just a few weeks later.

 

Field Trip to the Sinai Desert

(Scene: a geography field trip to the Sinai desert.  Cast: Moses, a teacher; Reuben, Esther, Zillah, all schoolchildren)

 

Moses     ………  and now we find ourselves in the Sinai desert.  Zillah, what can you remember about deserts?

Zillah       Well, Mr Moses sir ….. um ….. they’re hot, and they’re dry.

Moses     As you say, Zillah: hot and dry.  Not a drop of water for miles around.  No chance of any plants or animals.  And look              at that wonderful rock formation; a clear case of ………

Reuben   Please sir, I’m hungry.

Esther     And I’m tired, sir.

Zillah     Do we have to go much further, sir?  My feet are killing me!

Reuben   Three days without a bite to eat.  I’m starving!

Esther     It’s all sir’s fault.  He should have known better.

Reuben   I’d rather be back at school anyday.

Zillah     What?  Pretending to eat Miss Pike’s grotty gristle?

Esther     And the lumps in her custard?

Reuben   Well, at least we didn’t starve.

Esther     No, we didn’t.  I think we should go back home.

Moses    Hang on a minute!  We’ve got roast for supper tonight.

Reuben, Esther and Zillah (together)  Roast?

Reuben   Oh yeah – that’s a likely story!

Esther     I suppose he’s going to get his God to do another of his miracles.

Reuben   Well, he’d better get on and do it quick.  I’m hungry!  (Quail falls like a thunderbolt and hits him)  Ouch!!

Zillah     Good God!  What is it?

Moses    Roast quail.  It tastes rather like chicken.

Esther     But sir, I don’t like chicken!

Moses    Oh, for heaven’s sake, stop moaning and be thankful for what you’ve got.

Zillah     Sir, what’s for breakfast?

Moses    The Lord has promised me there will be bread for breakfast. (Passage of time overnight)

Zillah     Uggh!  What is it?

Esther     It looks like cornflakes all over the ground.

Moses    That’s the bread God has given you.  Gather as much as you can eat, but don’t keep any for later.

Esther     But sir, we can’t eat that!  You never know where it might have been.

Zillah     Mmmh ….. it tastes like honey waffles!

Reuben   Yes, it is good.  Hey, Esther, let’s put some in our pockets to nibble on the way.  We don’t know where our next meal’s              coming from. (Passage of time – wandering)

Moses    Stop!  What’s that horrible smell?

Zillah     It’s maggots!  Look at them crawling out of Esther’s pockets!

Moses    Can’t you do anything you’re told?  Reuben, what are you doing?

Reuben   Looking for food, sir.

Moses    What day of the week is it today, Reuben?

Reuben   Sunday, sir.

Moses    And what did I say about Sunday, Reuben?

Reuben   You said there wouldn’t be any, sir, because it’s a day of rest.

Zillah     Please, sir, I want something more interesting to eat.  I’m bored of honey waffles.

Esther     I need a drink, sir.  I’m thirsty.

Reuben   So am I.  It’s all sir’s fault that we’re dying of thirst.  I want to go home.

Moses    Ahhh!  Lord, what can I do with these grumblers?  Listen:  how many days has the Lord fed you in the desert?

Zillah     Nine, sir.

Moses    And do you think He’s going to abandon you now?  Can’t you trust Him?

Reuben   I want some water!

Moses    The Lord will provide. (Exit.  Reuben, Esther and Zillah stay on stage and become “People” for The Cycle of the Old Testament.)

 

The Cycle of the Old Testament

(This is a combination of group mime with narration, chant, lament and prayer.  It is in effect a fast forward from the middle of Exodus to the end of the Old Testament.  This part of the evening should be directed with imagination, and the cast encouraged to think of different ways of expressing the truths set out.  Gabriel acts as lead narrator, supported by David, who starts off as a sort of junior to Gabriel but after the lament is the leader of the people.

 

Gabriel descends from his eyrie onto stage, and is joined on stage by David and People.)

 

Gabriel    Now Moses led Israel for forty years in the desert, teaching them the law of the Lord.

David      Then Joshua, a mighty warrior in the strength of the Lord, led them into the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk                   and honey, just as the Lord had promised to Abraham.

Gabriel    But after the death of Joshua, the people did evil in the sight of the Lord.

David      In those days, the people had no leader; everyone did as he saw fit.

Gabriel    They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, and stirred up his anger by worshipping other gods.

David      So the Lord handed them over to their enemies for punishment.

Gabriel    Then the people cried out to the Lord, and he had compassion on them. 

David      He raised up for them leaders who rescued them and taught them.

Gabriel    Gideon and Samson, Saul and Samuel, David and Solomon, Elijah and Elisha.

David      But when the leader died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers.

Gabriel    These are the chronicles of the kings of Israel.

David      Jeroboam reigned in Samaria for 19 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Nadab succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 2 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Baasha succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 24 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Elah succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 2 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Zimri succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 7 days.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Omri succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 12 years.

People     He did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than all those before him.

Gabriel    And Ahab succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 22 years.

People     He did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than all those before him.  With Jezebel his wife, he killed the prophets of the                 Lord and taught the people to worship Baal.

Gabriel    And Ahaziah succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 2 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Joram succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 13 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Jehu succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 28 years.

People     He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

David      What?!!!  Are you sure?

People     Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord with all his heart.

Gabriel    And Jehoazam succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 17 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Jehoash succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 16 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Jeroboam succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 41 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Zechariah succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 6 months.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Shallum succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 1 month.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Menachem succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 10 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Pekahiah succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 2 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Pekah succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 20 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    And Hoshea succeeded him as king.

David      He reigned for 9 years.

People     He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Gabriel    Then the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried the Israelites into exile.

David      All this took place because the Israelites had sinned.

Gabriel    Nineteen kings, and nothing good to say about eighteen of them.  No wonder!

People     (unaccompanied lament, sung to the tune in Songs & Hymns of Fellowship.  Started by David who joins the people at                 this stage as their leader, with the others joining in, perhaps then going into a round, repeated several times) 

By the waters, the waters of Babylon,

We sat down and wept, and wept, for you Zion. 

We remember, we remember, we remember you Zion.

Gabriel    This is what the Lord says, he who formed you, o Israel:

People     Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.

Gabriel    You have burdened me with your sins, and wearied me with your offences.

People     Do not treat us as our sins deserve.

Gabriel    Return to me, and I will return to you.

People     Have mercy on us, o Lord, according to your unfailing love.

Gabriel    Love the Lord your God with all your heart.

People     Create in us clean hearts, o God.

Gabriel    I will take away your hearts of stone and give you hearts of flesh.

People     And renew a right spirit in us.

Gabriel    And I will pour out my Spirit on my people.

People     We rejoice to walk in your truth.

Gabriel    Here is my chosen one, in whom I delight.

People     Teach us your holy ways, o Lord.

Gabriel    He will ransom and redeem my people.

People     And lead us in paths of peace.

Gabriel    And the glory of the Lord will be seen in Zion.

People     How long, o Lord, until you fulfil your promise to Israel? 

Gabriel    A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord”

People     (Unaccompanied joyful singing, led by David, during which he and the people process off, based on Songs & Hymns                 of Fellowship.  While they are singing Gabriel retreats to his eyrie) 

In the presence of your people I will praise your name,

For your name is exalted high on the praises of Israel. 

I will celebrate your goodness and your steadfast love. 

May your name be exalted here on earth and in heaven above.

 

 

END OF ACT ONE – OPTIONAL INTERVAL

See separate page for Act 2                               Summary

Editable and printable version