How Jesus Christ Superstar Helps Us Appreciate Easter

If Good Friday is where we are most human, Easter is where we most dramatically see God.

Every Good Friday, I listen to the entirety of Jesus Christ Superstar. While taking some obvious dramatic license (though in some other ways remaining remarkably true to biblical accounts), the famous rock opera serves a very useful purpose for me: It humanizes the events leading up to, and including, the Passion, in highly memorable ways.

Judas is treated almost sympathetically – controversially so – while the rest of the Apostles are portrayed as even more clueless than they often appear in the Gospels. And while Superstar peddles the trope that Mary Magdalene was the harlot Jesus saved from stoning (almost certainly a false understanding), it gives her one of the most wonderful, achingly haunting devotional songs of the past half-century: “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”

“I don’t know how to love him,” she sings, “what to do, how to move him. I’ve been changed, yes, really changed. In these past few days when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else. I don’t know how to take this. I don’t see why he moves me. He’s a man, he’s just a man….”

That’s what Superstar emphasizes: The humanness of Jesus, the way that He appeared as one of us even to those of his closest followers. They recognized Him as something more, and yet because He had human shape and because they knew Him as a man, they still had trouble wrapping their minds around the idea of Jesus as God.

If we put ourselves in that position of having trouble believing our spirits rather than our eyes, that’s when the miracle of Easter has its greatest effect on us. We who know the risen Lord sometimes take his risen-ness for granted – but if we put ourselves in the position of those who thought all their dreams had died on Good Friday, then Easter’s glory can really, truly change us in the same way a confused Mary Magdalene sings about being changed not just in little ways, but indeed into “someone else.” And not just someone else, but someone better.

The Apostles surely were changed. From well-intentioned but fearful and confused disciples, they turned into men brave enough to endure persecution and even execution for the sake of their Lord. When, very, very late on Easter Sunday evening, Christ appeared to them and told them “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in [my] name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47, King James version), they did indeed accept that (and practice it) as their mission, until the often-brutal ends of their own lives.

Easter should likewise change us all. We now are offered, through the risen Christ, both redemption and eternal life no matter how we sometimes suffer on Earth. Despite Magdalene’s confusion, Jesus is not “just a man.” And, because of Easter, neither are we. We now can recognize the truth that we are spirit as well, spirit and everlasting soul. We are “changed, yes really changed.” And in that change, as Jesus told the Apostles (John 20:21), “Peace be unto you.”

As Magdalene in Superstar gives voice to, it is truly a joyful peace which surpasseth understanding.