I HAVE TO ADMIT that I am not a big fan of the musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Perhaps it is my own personal inclinations, my own disposition, but something about Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “rock opera musical,” I really don’t like.
In a 1971 Time Magazine interview, Rice commented: “It happens that we don’t see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.”
I am aware that this musical is not intended to be a work of faith, but at its essence, it reduces Jesus to a man who let good intentions get out of control. Pilate, in the musical, summarizes who Jesus really is in this story: “He’s mad, ought to be locked up … he’s a sad little man, not a king or god … he’s misguided, thinks he’s important … a misguided martyr … a misguided puppet.”
On top of that, and perhaps most importantly, there is no resurrection in the musical. As the play ends, the Apostles and Mary Magdalene simply are in mourning and go and reflect deeply on the impact that Jesus’ life and ministry had on their own lives.
Not to Be Diminished
And this, for us who call ourselves Christians, is not enough. Jesus is more than simply a wise teacher, a gentle philosopher, who calls us to self-actualization and to go out and make a difference in the world. No, Jesus is God. He is fully divine and fully human, a man like us in all things but sin. He is the Son of God who, for our sake, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus is the Lord who, through His words and deeds, helped us to realize that the Kingdom of God, which is peace, justice and joy, is already present and not yet fully realized.
Jesus is the one who is the very fulfillment of the law and the prophets. It is He who, for our sins, becomes sin itself, bearing on His shoulders the weight of the world. He, the all-beautiful one, becomes scarred, wounded for our offenses. It is Jesus who was nailed to the wood of the Cross, and by being lifted up on high, becomes for us the very focal point of salvation history.
Yes, Jesus really suffered for us and left us an example. He really died and was buried, three long days in the tomb. And He really rose again from the dead, the promise and first fruits of what we, if we are faithful to Him in this life, will be with Him in the next.
The resurrection of Jesus is more than just an interior feeling of mission and forgiveness experienced by the Apostles, who then, having become missionary disciples, sought to spread the message of this good man.
Jesus physically died. And He physically rose, in a new state, a glorified body. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Given all these testimonies, Christ’s Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact” (CCC 643).
Further, the catechism tells us: “this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm” (CCC 645). The qualities of the glorified body are impassibility, subtlety, agility and clarity, according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
This glorified body has continuity with His earthly body, and yet, there is discontinuity. Remember when Jesus appears in the upper room to the Apostles who are in hiding, He says, ‘Peace be with you,’ and shows them the nail marks in His hands and feet and His wounded side (John 20:20). The catechism states: “By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his passion” (CCC 645).
Yet, there is still discontinuity. Even His closest disciples do not, at first, recognize Him: Mary Magdalene thinks the risen Jesus is the gardener!
A Real, Physical Resurrection
Jesus physically rose from the dead. It was not merely a spiritual resurrection. This means something for us who are believers: A healthy understanding of death, judgment, heaven and hell are necessary in the life of the Christian.
When we die, our soul and body separate. Our soul goes to God for the particular judgment, and our soul’s destination is heaven, purgatory or hell. But in the final judgment, when all of time is completed, the Lord Jesus who reigns in heaven, will raise our bodies – glorified – and we will live and reign with Him.
The resurrection of Jesus is real. If not, as St. Paul says, we are the greatest of fools. It’s not just about feeling good and then doing good for others. It’s about the reality of the Lord’s resurrection, something that, by our baptism and faith, we share in as Christian believers. It is that faith in the reality of the Lord’s resurrection that impels and motivates our relationship and service of others.