And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. II Corinthians 15: 17-19
He seemed angry and frustrated with everyone, except the woman who repeatedly tried to calm him down and persuade that he shouldn’t worry, they’d all get by, and he should just forget about them for a while. The angry tone of the songs and exchanges began practically from the moment the show started, matching the darkness and gloom of the set. As the story unfolded, the tension built, and we got the impression that this man was reluctant, even resentful of the mission he had been sent on. When the sick came to him to be healed, he complained that there were too many of them and finally blurted, “Heal yourselves!” A last meal with his disciples found him cynical, saying they wouldn’t remember him ten minutes after he was gone. A last exchange with his betrayer was full of bitterness and rage on both sides, and in a final prayer in the garden, the superstar reminded his father that he (the father) was the one that started the whole thing, before reluctantly, resentfully submitting to the plan. The only scene with a hint of joy was when the people were singing “Hosanna!” as Jesus entered Jerusalem like a rock star on a ego trip. To me he seemed indistinguishable from any regular guy enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame, maybe even a little more full of himself.
If it hadn’t been for the title of the show – “Jesus Christ, Superstar” – I would never have recognized that this was supposed to be my Best Friend. Yes, I’ve read the gospels, many times, and I’m aware that there were moments of extreme frustration for Him, especially dealing with the religious elites. But there was so much more to His life and ministry than heated arguments. There was mostly the gentle, compassionate side of Him that Andrew Lloyd Weber is sadly unaware of. I watched in vain, waiting for a moment of tenderness that would show this side, but even in the scenes with Mary Magdalene, she seemed to be not so much an object of love, but more like a comfortable old shoe. Where was the One sent to the lost and dying by His Father, because “God so loved the world...”?
The real Jesus was a Man who welcomed children, healed the sick, touched lepers, befriended the outcast, defended the condemned, and had so much compassion on the grieving that He raised their loved ones from the dead! Even on the cross, He prayed for forgiveness for those who had put Him there. And even in His agony He continued caring about others. Contrary to the TV special, He did not whimper, “Where is my mother?” The real Jesus looked down, saw His mother at the foot of the cross, and told her, “Here is your son,” and to John, “Here is your mother,” making sure that the trusted disciple was going to take care of her.
But to me the most glaring omission in the popular Broadway musical was the very centerpiece of the Christian faith – the Resurrection. (Odd, since NBC chose Resurrection Sunday to air the production.) After two hours of virtually non-stop strife, as Jesus spoke His last words on the cross, there was no earthquake. (How could any director pass up that kind of drama?) We just heard violin music, and the last we saw of Jesus, He was drifting off into the distance (still on the cross) as the back of the stage slowly closed up. Again, what really happened was so much more dramatic – and actually the opposite of what was shown! The curtain in the Temple – the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from everyone except one priest on one day of the year – split open, top to bottom, opening up the way between God and Man once and for all.
The original “Jesus Christ Superstar” was hugely successful in the 1970’s, and its airing on Easter this year has introduced a whole new generation to this version of Jesus. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I am frustrated that with such a rare appearance of hugely talented people, so much of the story was omitted or distorted. And if Christians decide to get indignant about this and refuse to discuss it, then I see a victory for the “father of lies.”
But if this Easter special has people thinking about and talking about Jesus, we should be ready to engage in the dialogue, to tell people about the Jesus we know, the real reason He came, and by all means telling “the rest of the Story” – that He rose from the grave, defeated death, and opened up the way for us to come to God. We should tell them that we too can be resurrected through Him and spend eternity with the God who, contrary to the cruel way He is portrayed by some, is a loving Father with His arms wide open to anyone who will repent and place their faith in Him.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for a Love Story so magnificent, even unbelievers feel compelled to tell it. Help those of us who truly know and love You to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks for the reason for the hope that we have,” (I Peter 3: 15 ) Help us be to a cynical world the reflection of a loving God, in the name of Your true Son, Jesus. Amen