In 1970, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber released the album Jesus Christ Superstar. I was ten years old. “What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a happenin’..What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happenin”…..I believe I could sing the entire musical if anyone ever asked me to. I saw the film ten times when I was a kid and I listened to the soundtrack hundreds of times-the new version and the old. Some may remember, the original version had a brown album cover. The next version had a blue album cover. I played them both until the grooves on the albums wore out.
Over the years, ever since JC Superstar was released, I have wondered why the albums and the movie had such an effect on me. I was very young when the original album first came out. There was so much other great music emerging at the time. Bob Dylan; Joni Mitchell; Gordon Lightfoot; The Rolling Stones; The Beatles; Neil Young; Simon and Garfunkle-these were all my musical heroes. The soundtrack of my life was taking shape but JC was at the top of my hit list. Murray Head, the singer who portrayed Jesus, and the other musicians on the original album, were number one in my heart and mind. And, when it arrived on the scene in 1971, Stephen Schwartz’ Godspell, was a close second.
I have the answer now. I understand why Jesus Christ Superstar had me under its spell. It is because, for the first time ever, the Passion Story, our Christian story, was being told to me and I had was just beginning to grasp its enormity and its significance. “My time, is almost through. Little left to do. After all, I’ve tried for three years, seems like thirty, seems like thirty-could you ask as much, from any other man?”, sings Jesus. Listening to these words, and to the melodies they were set to, cracked my heart wide open.
I saw Jesus as a healer whose love could override physical illness, mental illness, sorrow and death. I saw him as a revolutionary who turned a defiant eye and heart to the government and who ate at the tables of those who invited him in, regardless of their political stature or their position in society. I was introduced to this man who was a compassionate friend to women, to the poor, to the oppressed. He was a teacher to the reluctant and sometimes foolish disciples. He was a leader to whoever was courageous enough to put down their crosses, empty themselves of their own desires, and follow him. And then, as I fell in love with him. I watched him die in the hot sun with vinegar on his lips and a crown of thorns on his head. He cries “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do” as his hands and feet are nailed to a cross.
This was my introduction to the Christian story; to the Passion Play. This story, our story, has never let me go.
This week, we play it out again. We walk through Holy Week with reverence and with broken hearts as we follow our beloved Jesus to his death. The beauty of foot washing, service and discipleship draw us in. The agony of suffering and darkness captivates our hearts and causes us to draw slow, deep breaths so stunned by the brutality of Jesus’ death. Yet, we hold on to the best part of the story because we are an Easter people. On Easter morning we tell our story again. There is nothing, neither darkness nor death, that can separate us from the love of God. There is no story greater, more mysterious, more enduring, than our Passion Play.
It is my prayer for all of us Christians that we participate in our beautiful, dangerous, inviting, never ending story of God’s love for each and every one of us. God took on flesh in order to show us an amazing love. God wants to convince us humans that we are capable of giving and receiving such endless love. God gave us our story so that we might stand at the foot of the cross and never look away. We are asked to follow the suffering of our beloved Jesus knowing that suffering as real as his, was not the end. The suffering is followed by abundant, pure, overwhelming love capable of crashing into the world three days after Jesus’s body was dead and gone. That love endures all things. That is our story. We need to sing it or tell it, or shout it, over and over again. This Holy Week invites us to do just that. “Hosanna, Hey sanna, sanna sanna ho….”…
This is our story. This is our song.
May it be so.