Jesus Christ Superstar became a Holy Week tradition for me back in 1988. Director Bob Mitchel gave me the opportunity to be a member of the cast of The Community Players production. As a teenager, I was in general at a very formative time in my life, but having been confirmed in December of 1987, I was in particular exploring a deeper relationship with Christ. Bob was a minister and brought to the production a reverence and understanding that extended beyond the theatrical into the theological.
When Bob first began the production, we spent some time discussing his take on the show. He told us that, despite common perceptions, he believed that we were telling Judas’s story. The big opening number and the finale were both his. That really stuck with me. Until that day, Judas Iscariot existed as flat character in the Gospels. Judas played the antagonist and the betrayer. Nothing more.
During the course of rehearsals and production, I developed an abiding love and compassion for Judas. He became someone who loved Christ but ultimately failed in his faith and fidelity. Judas became the manifestation of my failures and my weaknesses. The struggles between Jesus and Judas embodied the struggle within me between exercising my own will and surrendering to God’s will. Both exist within me. Both must be acknowledged for me to choose the path of Christ.
Another reason the experience of being in that production really stuck with me… “Remember Caesar. You have a duty. Crucify him. Crucify him. Crucify. Crucify. Crucify him.”
Every year, the congregation joins in the reading of the Passion demanding Christ’s crucifixion, but there is a big difference between reading the words in the comfort of your church congregation and having to act them out as a part of an angry crowd on stage. During those months, I had to *want* Pilate to crucify Christ. I had to be swept up with the crowd that one day sang his praises and another day demanded his torture and death.
Difficult doesn’t begin to describe that experience, but the resulting personal growth in my Christian faith was priceless. Now, when I join in the Passion readings at church, I hear that angry mob in my head and am reminded that Christians are responsible for the pain and suffering of Christ. The tears roll uncontrollably down my face.
He didn’t just give his life for us. We took it. We participated in it. He loves us anyway.
We loved him and left him. We lost Faith. He loves us anyway.
So now each year, I spend Holy Week listening to Jesus Christ Superstar over and over again, walking with Judas and Jesus, feeling their pain and suffering. I live in a place of sadness and hopelessness, and I do it because I owe Christ at least that much. I betrayed him. I left him. I lost Faith in him. He loves me anyway. I deserve to feel the pain and suffering. It is after all only one week.