Tonight we went to see GodSpell at the community college where I teach. It was really good. And it’s so faithful to the scripture. When explaining it to the kids, I told them it was the Gospel of Matthew sort of translated into hippie 1960s culture. So they said, “you mean it’s 2000 years old acting like it’s 50 years old?” I was taken about by the 50 year designation, but yes, pretty much. And it is. But it is also contemporary. And it’s gospel. ComputerGuy and I were talking on the way home about how community college can do things almost no one else can. It was a creative production with extra physical and verbal bits thrown in that my son loved (“Mom, my favorite part was the Mario music”). Jesus was a small black young man, powerful singer. John/Judas was a tall white young man. There were cast members of all shapes and sizes, black and white, Asian and Latinx. They used flowers and bandanas as symbols of Jesus’ followers, and hand sanitizer in the “foot washing” scene. And Jesus broke bread, (and for me, having broken bread this year, and spoken his words, I saw that in a different light).
Because I mostly listen to the music, I forget how much of the book comes straight from the Gospel. They’re telling parables and stories and the sermon on the mount and recreating scenes. I found the sheep and the goats particularly poignant tonight. “Whatever you have (not) done for the least of these my brothers, however humble, you have (not) done for me.” I’m struggling to put this into words, but I was also struck by the natural speech rhythms of Jesus. When we read scripture, especially in church, it’s a production. To simply hear Jesus saying these things to his followers gave me a different sense of them.
We had just watched NBC’s live Superstar the other night, and it noticeably ends on the cross. So here, when Jesus comes down from the cross and slips in with the disciples, and the pure joy is expressed–both his and theirs–it seemed particularly meaningful.
I am fascinated by the sudden resurgence of both these musicals. In a culture where people are fighting over what it means to follow Jesus, we may be asking, “who is this Jesus?” These were two really different portraits of Jesus, controversial when they opened–that reflect the culture of early seventies America and England, both worth contemplating as we ask, who is this Jesus we follow? and what does it mean to follow him?
(Also, I’ve been listening to Superstar and Godspell my whole life. My parents played the records. Godspell evidently opened off broadway 5 days after I was born. And I will trust my mom to correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s the first musical I remember seeing at my dad’s high school when I was about 4. I can still picture the experience in my mind. I was mesmerized. And have been enamored of musicals ever since.)