(March 29)  Fifty years after I first listened to Jesus Christ Superstar on a two-record wax album, its powerful evocation of Good Friday still both haunts and intrigues me.

This is a column not about the rock opera but about Good Friday, but (as I have written before, with differing emphases than I will today) the latter provides entree to the former.

It was in the spring of 1974 that the Rev. Rod Smith, the assistant principal of Trinity Episcopal School in New Orleans, played the Superstar album for my fourth grade class. For decades, I have relistened to it every single year on Good Friday, and I am listening to it now as I write this column. What struck me even as a fourth grader, and fascinates me now, is how Superstar so completely humanizes Jesus, making him so little godlike that he sometimes is almost unlikeable. Almost. Even humanized rather than deified, and even with Superstar’s story ending on Good Friday rather than proceeding to Easter, Jesus continues to mesmerize — and in a good way.

Part of this powerfully mesmerizing quality surely is due to the art of composers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, but a larger part comes from the person of Jesus himself. To their credit, Lloyd Webber and Rice hewed amazingly closely (in most ways) to the direct text of the Gospels, and the character of Jesus as presented in the Gospels, even on a purely human level, is inherently galvanizing.

Set aside as far as humanly possible, as Superstar does, Jesus’s actual Christhood, and set aside (for this column’s immediate purposes) our Easter faith. From a purely historical standpoint, Jesus of Nazareth’s story is astonishing.

What was astonishing was not that Jesus was crucified. Through the centuries, hundreds of thousands of people have been crucified by Assyrians, Babylonians, Macedonians, Greeks, Romans, and others. Pontius Pilate himself oversaw thousands of crucifixions. Romans crucified 6,000 people in one day in 71 A.D. in response to Spartacus’s rebellion.

What is astonishing is that anybody remembers this one particular crucifixion. Why, out of the hundreds of thousands, was this one, this execution on what we now call Good Friday, so memorialized?….


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