Reflection Masthead
Issue 173 - Jesus Christ, Superstar - April 2018
On Easter Sunday, April 1, we were among the nearly ten million people who watched NBC's live performance of Jesus Christ, Superstar. I wondered if the work would seem dated, simply a nostalgic relic from my college years. Instead, we both found that this "rock opera" retains its power, tunes and images lingering in our minds.  Here are some of our reflections. 

The Insight
        Andrew Lloyd Webber is the name that comes to mind when you think of Jesus Christ, Superstar . And well it should, for his music is truly impressive - both stunning and hummable! But as I reflect on the recent live broadcast, it is the insightful lyrics of Tim Rice that I find most memorable - and most challenging.
Rice's lyrics reveal so much about how people respond to Jesus! There is the shallow, enthusiasm of the Palm-Sunday crowds:
Christ, you know I love you; did you see I waved?
I believe in you and God, so tell me that I'm saved!
There are the disciples, at the Last Supper, thinking about how this will look on their resumes:
Then when we retire we can write the gospels
So they'll still talk about us when we've died.
There is Herod's sneering, sarcastic contempt (once he's convinced that Jesus is no longer a threat):
So, you are the Christ, you're the great Jesus Christ?
Prove to me that you're divine - change my water into wine.
(Of course, it's not just the lyrics that make any of these songs memorable. Without Lloyd Webber's honky-tonk piano setting, Herod's song would lose much of its sarcastic tone.)
And then there is Judas - Judas of all people! - who has the audacity to look down his nose at Jesus for associating with Mary Magdalene:
... mystifying
That a man like you can waste his time
On women of her kind.
I'm not sure how accurate Rice's insights are into the thinking and the motives of any of the characters in the gospel accounts of the passion. That is not the point. The point of any passion play (which is what Superstar is) is to prompt the audience to see themselves in the characters of the drama. And, oh do I! More than I would like to admit: The shallow, cheap-grace, enthusiasm of the Palm-Sunday crowds. Opportunities for ministry turned into bullet-points of my resume. Quiet disdain for people of "that kind," whatever kind that might be, whom I do not find to be worthy of my time.
What impresses me is not that Rice and Lloyd Webber offer insight into the biblical characters; it is that they offer insight into myself. Which is why these words, which Rice puts into the mouth of Jesus, are so haunting:
Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand...
Understand what power is,
Understand what glory is,
Understand at all.
Understand at all.
                                                                      - by Bill
Lyrics of Longing 
      Although it's been weeks since the 2018 version of Jesus Christ Superstar aired on NBC, still, the lyrics float around in varying levels of my consciousness, arising unbidden and pseudo-audible sometimes at the most inopportune time...
I don't know how to love him
What to do, how to move him
I've been changed, yes really changed...
...and from "The Last Supper"-
Look at all my trials and tribulations
Sinking in a gentle pool of wine
Don't disturb me now; I can see the answers
Till 'this evening' is 'this morning', life is fine
Always hoped that I'd be an apostle
Knew that I would make it if I tried...
...but always, always, it is the affectionate and endearing songs that summons my soul, the lyrics of longing and love that linger.
                What to do with the hateful, condemning lyrics that seem sacrilegious and salacious?! Judas and Caiaphas and Herod? Is it too easy to forget or dismiss the tragedy of the crucifixion?
                That same weekend, ten of thousands of people gathered in downtown San Antonio for the re-enactment of the Passion of Christ, beginning with an ecumenical prayer service. This generations-old following of the "via dolorosa" is a devotional practice for Christians of many denominations. Its prayerful and somber tone was a contrast to Andrew Lloyd Webber's conceptualization of the crucifixion.
             Perhaps we should hold both tellings/singings of the crucifixion story in tension: a traditional prayerful devotion and a contemporary lyrical opera. Maybe the point of all this - "What's the Buzz" - is to give hospitality to the lyrics that arise and a dwelling place to the prayers of this most sacred event of our Christian faith: the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. Not only on Easter weekend, but every day, for every day we should sing of the Resurrection story.           
...always hoped that I'd be an apostle / knew that I would make it if I tried...
                                                         --by Jan

Please share Reflection freely by forwarding any issue (click "Forward to a Friend" below), but remember to respect copyright laws by not altering, copying, or reproducing Reflection, whole or in part, without written permission.
Copyright (c) 2018 Soul Windows Ministries
Soul Windows Logo

Bill Howden and Jan Davis
Soul Windows Ministries