By Jim Segaar
When I was a kid, Good Friday was barely a speed bump on the way to Easter. Just one more day that we had to go to church, or more importantly before the days after Easter, when we got to eat our fill of on-sale Easter candy. But something happened when I got old enough, and one day Peeps were no longer the only “reason for the season.” It had something to do with Jesus Christ Superstar.
The first time I heard about the Superstar, the album/play/movie, was during a discussion in a Bible class at Lynden Christian High School. Originally released as a concept album in 1970, the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice made its Broadway debut in 1971. The first film version was released in 1973, and that must be what spawned the discussion – I can’t imagine anyone in Lynden, Washington being aware of a concept album or what was playing on Broadway.
In true “Christian-Reformed-Know-It-All” fashion, we had a lovely discussion about the merits of Superstar without actually knowing anything about it beyond rumors that we’d heard. I hadn’t seen the movie, and neither had any of my classmates or the teacher. I doubt anyone had heard the album. But we debated anyway. The discussion was somewhat one-sided, and true to form, I found myself a minority of one. At the end of class we had to summarize our views into a paper, and I staunchly defended something that I knew absolutely nothing about. My paper included a line something like: “at least Superstar is likely to reach far more people than the Saturday Evening Gospel Sing,” which was a weekly feature on KLYN, the local radio station.
Eventually I bought Superstar on 8-track tape, and I saw the original movie, and I was fascinated! I still remember the lyrics to I Don’t Know How to Love Him and I was thrilled by the basso profundo performance depicting Caiaphis the High Priest. “Tell the rabble to be quiet, we anticipate a riot!” I wore out my 8-track tape, which as I recall wasn’t all that hard to do.
Perhaps my fascination with Jesus Christ Superstar has something to do with molding my feelings about Good Friday. Over the years that day has become the most significant holiday in the Christian church year for me. I know for some that Good Friday is the first day in some cosmic magic act – a death necessary so there can be a resurrection on Easter three days later. But for me it is a profoundly human day, filled with confusion and crossed purposes and jealousy and cruelty and confronting indomitable power and ultimately execution and suicide. And Superstar does a better job of exploring those very human aspects of the day than most theologians or Bible classes.
I don’t believe that Good Friday represents some great sacrificial act, when Jesus died so that the rest of us can live forever. I find it impossible to worship, or even respect a god who requires something like that. For me, Good Friday represents the worst about humanity, and how love can survive and triumph over the absolute worst that we can throw at it.
I relate to Jesus’ cry of “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!”
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”
It’s not so much a question as an accusation.
And yet, Good Friday is not the end. That may be where Jesus Christ Superstar leaves it, with Jesus crucified and Judas hanging from a tree branch. But for me the story goes on. Easter does come. Jesus does rise, in the hearts of his followers at the very least. And the story of God’s love, God’s aching desire to be with us, to be in us, continues.
I don’t dwell much on the miracles ascribed to Good Friday and Easter. A total eclipse. A torn curtain. An earthquake. An empty tomb. To me, it doesn’t matter if they happened or not.
What matters is that Power did its very worst to kill love that day. And love lived on. Love lives on. In you. In me. In all of us.
Join us at 7:30 p.m. on Good Friday, April 14 at Seattle First Baptist.
Images from Wikipedia, as follows:
By Pastor Tim Phillips
I am borrowing a line from a book Cherry Johnson passed along to me as we have been re-imagining Lent and Easter. The book by Peter Rollins seems generally to have been written for an audience other than us but I found great wisdom in it for our time.
For instance – and I’m paraphrasing here – part of the reason we have a rough time with the idea of resurrection is that we don’t really believe Jesus died. We know how the Easter story ends and we know that spring signals new life and we good liberal folk are generally optimistic about the world anyway. So it’s hard to take the death of Jesus all that seriously. That’s why Good Friday can feel contrived – like a little plot twist in a Hallmark movie you know is going to turn out just fine.
But for resurrection to be true, someone has to have been really, totally, and unmistakably dead. Easter Sunday isn’t celebrating the resuscitation of Jesus. Jesus didn’t get brought back to life. He died. Or, more accurately, he was killed. And the reality the disciples experienced on that Easter morning was, by all accounts, life of a different sort.
The death of Jesus and all the religion that has tried to bring him back to life is, for Rollins, to experience the reality of the Crucifixion: “If the Crucifixion marks the moment of darkness, then the Resurrection is the very act of living fully into the darkness and saying ‘Yes’ to it.” Resurrection, in other words, is not some denial or escape from death but whatever new life happens in the face of it.
And that life, I think, is of a very different sort. On occasion people give me near-death stories to read or share a story of their own. Usually those stories include some epiphany about life. If that’s true about near-death experience, imagine the revelations of a real death experience. What gets revealed in the stories of those first disciples is that, having experienced the death of Jesus, they did not try to resuscitate their old lives. They did not pick up where they left off. They do not claim that Jesus never really died and then trot him out to prove to the world that his death was some form of “fake news.” Jesus died. And they began living a new life - the life of resurrection. Rollins says: “Resurrection is not something one argues for, but it is the name we give to a mode of living.”
To say, “I believe in the insurrection,” is to talk about life in resurrection mode. I realize it has political overtones. Perhaps it is resurrection for such a time as this. Rollins says: “Resurrection life plants us into the very heart of a battle … it is one that sets itself against the systems that oppress people, preventing their development into fully responsible, ethical individuals.”
Every day, like Jesus, people die real deaths at the hands of oppressive and unjust systems. Every day, by some action, what I have wanted to believe and to hope for my country seems to die. Every day there is more bad news about the environment and the deaths of ice caps and corals. Those deaths are real. Pretending they are not will only bring more of the same.
Resurrection is the life that happens in the face of all that. It is a mode of living that plants us in the heart of a battle. It’s resistance that is real. It’s insurrection. It’s a call on Easter morning for all those who love life in all its varied and wondrous and beautiful forms to rise up!
Note: Peter Rollins’ book is Insurrection: to believe is human, to doubt, divine. (Howard Books, 2011)
Editor's Note: This blog is a reprint of an article written for the April, 2017 edition of The Spire.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist