One of the common tropes in academe when budgets are low and the university is not within walking distance of a major American theme park to attract the folks from the lecture circuit is to organize a “last lecture series.” Faculty are asked to prepare their last, greatest lecture and present it to the students. You only get five minutes as the scenario says that it’s the last lecture YOU will give and not the last lecture a student hears before expiring of boredom and tedium.
Last night I watched several vignettes that make up Akira Kurosawa’s film Dreams. It was not quite his last film. In the second vignette of the movie, a boy’s older sister is celebrating the Doll Festival with four of her friends. The brother is convinced there were five friends plus his sister and brings snacks for six. The sister insists there are only five. The brother suddenly sees a girl running away and he follows her to what used to be the family peach orchard which had just been cut down. There he sees all of the dolls in his sister’s collection alive, standing on the terraces. The emperor doll reprimands the boy for cutting down the orchard, reminding him that the dolls represent the blooming of the peach trees. The empress and the boy retort that he begged his family not to cut down the orchard and that he cried when it happened. The dolls then grant that he may see the orchard one last time and the musician dolls play instruments while the other dolls dance. Suddenly the air is filled with peach blossoms as they dance. Then the orchard is restored, blooming in full glory. The boy sees the mysterious girl again and pursues her into the orchard, just as suddenly realizing that the trees are again gone and only stumps remain. However, in the place where the mysterious girl was standing is one young peach tree, fully blossoming.
The readings today talk about miracles, something like Kurosawa dreamed with dolls coming to life, a girl turning into a peach tree, and the dolls transforming the ravaged orchard back into full life and fruition. But as in the film the miracles each serve a larger purpose.
In the first reading Elijah has the power to prevent and produce rain. There is a drought in Israel. King Ahab has turned to false gods yet Elijah relents and restores rain to Israel.
In the second reading Jesus asks us to perform the miracle—to reconcile ourselves to our brothers, sisters and opponents before we bring our gifts to the altar. Elijah had it easy! Add to this the fact that Jesus does not ask us to request forgiveness for what we have done but to forgive our families for what they have against us. This is a tall request.
All three stories, Kurosawa’s dream of the peach orchard, Elijah’s restoration of rain to the land of Israel and Jesus’ followers’ restoration of family and communal bonds speak of the larger purpose and indeed miracle of the restoration of wholeness. The orchard beings to grow again with a single new tree, rain returns to a drought stricken land to bring fertility, and we are asked to make the human family whole.
“Dreams” was not Kurosawa’s last film but it was close! If I knew when my last moments would be, I doubt very much I would sit down and write a lecture. I would do my best to reach out to those with whom I most need to be reconciled. Maybe I would even take them to see “The Peach Orchard” and let symbols speak for words and read this Gospel to them to explain what I was about to do. It would help if it was raining too while telling the story of Elijah.
But why wait until the last minute?
You have already read the gospel. If you have enough throughput on your computer you can view the vignette “The Peach Orchid” from the film using the links below:
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