Community Theater and the Church

This past month, and continuing through March 6th, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar has been playing at the San Pedro Playhouse. I had heard about it from several parishioners, and also knew that one of our choir members was in the cast, and so one afternoon a few weeks ago I took my daughter to see it. While I had heard some of the music from this 1970’s Broadway musical, I had never actually seen the full production live and in person. Considering it was written over forty-five years ago, Webber’s interpretation of the most famous story ever told is remarkably fresh. Though the music is unmistakably a period piece, the narrative and characters are timeless. I found myself, again and anew, captivated by the passion of Christ.

Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem captures the high hopes the people had of their Messiah. His silence before Herod, who expects to be entertained by Jesus, is deafening. Herod’s house is a madhouse, an over-the-top chorus line, and the king obviously expects Jesus to join in the spectacle. Refusing to perform, Jesus is tossed back to Pilate, Herod furious at this so-called superstar.

Of all the interesting angles and interpretations of Jesus Christ Superstar, perhaps the biggest question of the production is how it concludes. The final scene, just before curtain call, is the crucifixion. Jesus dies, and it’s lights up, curtain closed. On one hand, it is a horrible ending to a haunting story. On the other hand, we might wonder why Webber chose to end before Easter. Is the resurrection simply beyond belief? Is it beyond the spectacle of a Broadway show? Is it because the resurrection is now left open to interpretation, left up to us? Is the audience now the actors?

Parker Palmer, who is a contemplative Quaker – and an insightful theologian – picks up on this theme in his book The Active Life. Palmer writes:

“…there is no resurrection of isolated individuals. She [the poet to whom he is referring] is simply not concerned about private resurrections, yours or mine or her own. Each of us is resurrected only as we enter into the network of relationships called community . . . Resurrection has personal significance – if we understand the person as a communal being – but it is above all a corporate, social, and political event, an event in which justice and truth and love come to fruition.” (The Active Life, p. 152)

The passion of Jesus Christ, and his continued resurrection into community, is made real when it becomes a part of our communal reality. Not Jesus Christ a celebrity or superstar, not Jesus your personal savior, but Jesus alive and incarnated within the body of Christ, the Church.

During the rest of Lent, and moving on into Holy Week and Easter, I would invite you to come hear the rest of the story. The story of the resurrection is not finished until it is completed in you. I would invite you to experience resurrection, not isolated and alone, but in the midst of the people of God, in the liturgies of Holy Week. The passion of Christ is occurring again all around us. It is not a solo act, but a cast of characters.

Grace & peace,



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