Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Godspell: A Post-Easter Reflection

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast." (Mark 2:19-20)

During high school, I had a lot of friends who were really into drama. I liked drama, and I liked my dramatic friends, even though there were times our differing approaches to spirituality contributed to some inadvertent awkwardness. Like the time they took me to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And the time I took one of them to see Mike Warnke. :)

But when they bought me a ticket to see a live production of Godspell in my senior year, I knew they were trying to find a "middle ground" that we could all enjoy together. I loved them for it, so I went.
(parenthetical thought): When Godspell first came out, I was just a kid, but I remember several pastors/leaders lamenting that it made Jesus look like a (literal) clown, wearing a Superman t-shirt and face paint. Better, perhaps, than the failed-political-revolutionary version presented in Jesus Christ, Superstar, but too silly and irreverent to be taken seriously; others opined it bordered on blasphemy. Certainly, lacking in reverence.

And each of these 1960's-hippy-influenced productions had a similar flaw: both ended with the death of Jesus, but neither had a resurrection. Pretty glaring omission, you'd have to admit.
Even one of my early heroes in the faith, Larry Norman, was pretty dismissive of it. Still, I loved my friends, and out of respect for them, I never questioned my decision to go.

And yes, the play did have Jesus in the Superman shirt, but at the same time, the vast majority of the dialogue was Scripture. My friends sat through more clear Bible teaching in that production than any church outreach I could have invited them to.
And yes, Jesus and all the disciples wore face paint that was circus-like. But when I thought of the verse at the beginning of this post, that made sense. The disciples were joyful to be in His presence, even child-like in their playfulness around Him. That made the Last Supper scene, where they shed their paint, all the more sombre and mournful, as the marks of joy and celebration were removed in the shadow of the impending crucifixion.

And unlike the original production -- which ended with the disciples carrying Jesus' lifeless body off-stage to the song 'Long Live God' -- when the 'Long Live God' part ended, there was darkness and silence on stage for a very long minute. Then, as the band kicked into the Day By Day reprise, Jesus suddenly appeared in a spotlight on stage, and the production ended with the over-joyed disciples leaping and dancing around the stage as they were reunited with Him.

I found the production moving, funny, thought-provoking and uplifting -- the resurrection scene was powerful and brought the audience to its feet with wild cheers and clapping. And my friends and I had some great conversations about Jesus in the days following.
I have seen The Passion of the Christ a few times, and I appreciate it's depiction -- however brutal to watch -- of the price Jesus was willing to pay, because of His great love for us, to win our salvation. But something that I noticed surrounding the time when this movie came out was -- curiously -- almost identical to some of the discussions surrounding Godspell:

Most Christians that I knew were content to spend time only with other Christians, debating among themselves whether (insert title of production/movie here) gave a "clear enough Gospel presentation" or not.

When -- really -- who cares? Why was it so important to have debates about what we thought about the clarity or obscurity of the Gospel message in these productions?

Instead, we should have been having those conversations with our friends who didn't know Jesus, but were introduced to part of His story via film, DVD, or live stage production. If there were any gaps in their presentation of Jesus' teaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom, surely we could have filled them in, during conversations over grande lattes.
  1. The fascination of the media with Jesus Christ won't be going away any time soon.
  2. Likewise, the not-quite-complete message of the Gospel in the media won't likely change either.
  3. We are the difference-makers, if we pay attention and choose to engage.