Holy Week and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Published 5:15 pm Sunday, April 17, 2022

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Every year about this time I look through my oldies music and listen to a Rock Opera popular during my teenage years: “Jesus Christ Superstar.” One song tells the story of Palm Sunday starting with the crowd that greets Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

Hosanna, Heysanna, Sanna, Sanna Ho. Sanna Heysanna Hosanna.

Hey J.C., J.C. you’re alright by me… Sanna Ho Sanna Hey Superstar.

On Palm Sunday churches celebrate with children walking down the aisle waving palm branches and singing Hosanna’s. Every year, we rejoice and remember what happened when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The crowd spread their coats and waved palm branches shouting, “Bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38)

In “Jesus Christ Superstar” the crowd is singing and yelling with enthusiasm: Christ you know I love you. Did you see I waved? I believe in you and God, so tell me that I’m saved. (Repeat)

Palm Sunday should be exciting. This kind of enthusiastic crowd, shouting praise for God would be any preacher’s fondest fantasy. “Superstar” goes on to record Jesus’ response:

Neither you Simon, nor the 50,000, nor the Romans, nor the Jews,

Nor Judas, nor the Twelve, nor the priest, nor the scribes nor doomed Jerusalem itself, understand what power is, understand what glory is, understand at all — to conquer death you only have to die. You only have to die! 

The Gospel of Luke says: “As they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to cry.” (20:41) He cried? Isn’t that a strange response for the guest of honor at a parade?

For three years Jesus taught the meaning of God’s Son on earth, but no one understood what it meant: the disciples, the crowds, the Romans, the Jews, the religious leaders, none of them. They wanted a great leader; A Messiah who would free the Jews and save Israel. But the first day in town, Jesus came to the temple and threw a fit, overturned tables at the sight of merchants selling on temple grounds. “My house shall be a house of prayer,” Jesus said.

Over the next few days, Jesus came back to the temple several times and healed the sick but he also argued with religious leaders. At one point Jesus called them blind guides, snakes and hypocrites! Jesus spoke using mysterious parables that talk about the kingdom of God as not being on this earth but in heaven above.

The joy of the crowd on Palm Sunday gave way to concern and finally to anger. This is not the way the Messiah should act. He should be working to restore Israel and liberate us from Rome. Sadly, the same crowds who shouted “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday would in a few short days be shouting: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! You’re not the Messiah we want. So, Crucify Him!”

Before the end of the week, Jesus is arrested, tried, whipped, humiliated, spat upon, cursed, plotted against, crucified, dead and buried. When Jesus was born there was no room for him in the inn. When He died, there was no room for Him in the world.

If this were the end of the story, it would be depressing. So instead of rejoicing on Palm Sunday for Jesus Christ the “Superstar,” we should remember how Jesus responded when he saw the city of Jerusalem: He wept. Maybe we should too.

Let’s face it. We have heard this story so many times. If we react to it at all, we often respond with horror that Jesus would be treated that way, as if we had nothing to do with the events that led to Jesus’ death. But to really understand and appreciate Jesus’ mission we have to understand how we are part of that mob shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

I saw a painting depicting Jesus on the cross, but not on a lonely hill in Calvary but in the middle of a busy modern street filled with people from every walk of life hurrying by – all apparently too busy with their own problems and worries to notice the agony Jesus is enduring in their midst.

How do we respond? Do we allow Jesus to change us in a way pleasing to God or do we ignore what happens and miss the significance of what comes next?

Jesus Christ Superstar is an excellent musical, but it leaves out a critical part of the story. There is no resurrection in the rock opera. Jesus is crucified, dead and buried. The last song features Judas asking the ultimate question of Jesus: Why? Why show up at this time? At this place?

Why indeed? None of the sacrifice makes any sense unless we believe what happens next.

After Palm Sunday and the Last Supper, the betrayal, the trial, the crucifixion, the burial. After three short days we celebrate Easter. After reliving the events leading to Jesus’ death, we celebrate and remember Jesus’ resurrection. Easter Sunday is coming.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he dies. And by the way Jesus marched to his death leaves no doubt: He had come to earth for this moment.

Which is a great reason to sing: Hosanna, Heysanna, Sanna, Sanna Ho. Sanna Heysanna Hosanna. Hey J.C., J.C. you’re alright by me… Sanna Ho Sanna Hey Superstar.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.