This Sunday afternoon, a group from First Pres will be seeing a production of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar at Northampton Community College. I’m pleased to have been invited to lead a discussion about the show after the performance, which is at 2 pm on Sunday. If you don’t have a ticket, I encourage you to consider getting one, especially if you’ve never seen the show. (see ticket information below)
But when I first saw the movie version of the show, I was intrigued. First and foremost, it was the characterizations of Jesus and Judas that interested me, but I’m going to talk about that after the show on Sunday! But part of it was telling this familiar and sacred story through rock music.
As a member of Generation X, I didn’t experience the cultural controversy of rock music like Baby Boomers did; it was easily the dominant popular music art form from before my earliest memory. Yet there were still elements of that controversy in the church was I was a youth in the 1980s; as I’ve also mentioned in a sermon or two, even my centrist Presbyterian congregation in Atlanta was served for a time by a youth minister who sincerely believed that rock music was the greatest threat to the spirituality health and general well-being of youth. I thought that perspective was both condescending and extremely limited.
I had also never really heard rock music with Christian themes that was any good; the contemporary Christian music movement was only beginning to emerge at the time, and most of what that youth minister tried to get us interested in was both artistically and theologically painful. But Jesus Christ Superstar was different. Both musically and theologically, I found it compelling; I was surprised to find that the relative rawness of rock music was able communicate aspects of Jesus’ character and story that I had never really heard in that way before.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Protestant churches got mired in what became known as “the worship wars,” which were really fights mostly about worship music: organs vs. guitars and drums, hymns vs. praise songs, etc. So it is a joy to be serving a congregation which has moved beyond those fights and recognizes that there are a multitude of music forms through which we can worship God and experience the power of God’s presence.
Which is actually very Presbyterian; the Presbyterian understanding of holiness is that things or times or spaces are holy not because they have an inherent holiness themselves, but because God chooses to be present in and through them when the church uses them in worship.
So I hope to see you in whatever worship service this Sunday speaks to you; but I also encourage you to try whatever service you do not normally attend sometime, and see how God may surprise you there, too!
Grace and Peace,
“JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR” AT NCC
FPCB has a group of 20 attending the Sunday, July 28 performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at Northampton Community College.
Rev. J.C. Austin will lead a post-show discussion of the themes of this popular rock musical, for any audience members who would like to participate. If you did not get in on the group but would like to attend, you can purchase an individual ticket for the production by visiting ncctix.org or calling 484-484-3412. Very limited tickets are available for Sunday, July 28; other show dates are July 24-27, July 31, and Aug. 1-4.
It will be offered by NCC’s professional Summer Theatre program, in the college’s Lipkin Theatre (3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem). Tickets are $15 (adult/senior) and $10 (child/student).