Jesus Christ Superstar—it had been a long time since I had heard that music. So, I decided to watch it on TV on Easter night—at least until I got bored or disgusted. You see I had this feeling that it couldn’t be good. I love John Legend, love Sara Bareilles, had heard that other cast members were Broadway veterans, but, I’d seen some really bad musicals on TV. I was fully prepared to be disappointed once again. Only this time I wasn’t disappointed at all . . .
In fact, I loved it!! I loved the set that was an ancient/future juxtaposition. I loved the opening that immediately grabbed me the second the all-female string quartet burst on the scene. I loved the crazy choreography, the costumes—all the leather and tattoos. I loved Jesus and Mary and Judas and all the rest of the terrific cast. And, I was reminded how much I STILL LOVE THE MUSIC. I loved this LIVE, made-for-TV production of Jesus Christ Superstar! It was riveting and memorable and I’ve been singing it full out ever since (at least when I’m home alone).
In 1970, Jesus Christ Superstar was released as an album. Mike, my youth director, wanted our group to hear it and talk about it. We had to go to his apartment because we didn’t have a stereo turntable at the church. I remember sitting around his living room hearing it for the first time. Wow! Of course, we recognized the story, the plot and all the characters, but this telling twisted and turned in ways we had never heard before. Should we be listening to this? It wasn’t just that it was rock music—way cool rock music. There were things about the story that were very different from what we had been taught in Sunday school and church. There were bizarre characters, scandalous lyrics. This story was raw and real and relevant—at least to me.
In 1970 many people thought the musical was blasphemy. Crowds picketed, boycotted and tried to shut down the stage production of it. It was just too provocative. But, for me that’s the power of this musical and the STORY, for that matter. Jesus’ story told in this way provokes—it incites, it stirs, and even enflames. At least that’s what it did for me, for us. We listened and discussed it and listen again and discussed it. Immediately, I bought the album and pretty much memorized it. I dug through my Bible to check texts and sang along with it some more. There may have been those in our group who were totally offended—I don’t really remember. What I do remember was being drawn into the amazing, complicated, shocking, mysterious story of Jesus Christ in a way I had never been before!
After hearing it again, seeing this beautiful production, I thought about it a lot, about my church, my youth group and especially my youth director. Mike introduced to us something that was pretty controversial at the time (fortunately, none of our parents had a clue!). But, most importantly, he gave us the space to talk freely about it—what we liked and didn’t like, what made us uncomfortable and what challenged us. He gave us permission to ask questions, to float off-the-wall ideas, to voice doubts and to have deep discussions about important things. What a gift that was!
It occurs to me that that’s what church should always be, though—a safe place to explore, to bring our questions, our doubts, our perspectives and share them without fear. Church should be a community in which a sermon or a lesson or a book or a blog or a musical can challenge us, shake us up, needle us in a way that draws us into meaningful conversations that enrich our lives and deepen our faith. It should be that kind of community. I hope and pray that it is . . .