Each year on Palm Sunday, I am reminded of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. You might think it odd that so important a Sunday in our liturgical year (according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “a Sunday of the highest rank”) would make me think of a lavish Broadway musical, and you would not be alone. A professor of theology (now deceased) who taught me at St. Francis Xavier University in the 1990s was scandalized when the Theatre Arts Society staged a production of the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical…during Lent. The professor ranted to our class of six students, 19 years-old and doe-eyed, “What do you think Jesus was doing with his hands in his last hours? Did he have his hands stretched out taking tickets and collecting money for show tunes? No! His hands were nailed to the cross, weren’t they?” I wrote this down in my notebook as he said it, trying to avoid eye contact with him, praying he would not ask for my opinion. He worried frequently and aloud about heresy, and often asked us what we thought, which was often wrong.
Until then I was unfamiliar with Jesus Christ Superstar, but when I saw the play my professor was so riled up about, It helped me to understand for the first time how excited the crowds must have been to welcome Jesus into their midst. He was hope for salvation during challenging times. In some parishes this Palm Sunday, the liturgy will begin with the assembly processing into the church together waving their palm leaves, re-enacting the gospel reading from Mark, and this is the main reason I associate Jesus Christ Superstar with Palm Sunday. During this scene where Jesus processes into Jerusalem, along with his entourage, he is followed, greeted, and praised by the crowds, all singing “Hosannah, Hey Sannah…” On stage (or in the movie), the crowds sing loudly, with great joy and passion, each person waving palm branches in the air and scattering them on the ground before Jesus, heralding the triumphant entry of their King into Jerusalem. “Hosanna” (also according to the Catholic Encyclopedia) means “Grant your salvation”, so in shouting this, the crowds were appealing to Jesus for spiritual salvation.
Like the Palm Sunday liturgy, the action in the play changes dramatically, and during Christ’s Passion we encounter him being treated quite differently as we walk with him through his suffering and death. What begins with a celebratory parade concludes with Jesus accepting the humiliation of the cross, after another crowd rejects him in favour of a criminal. Ridiculed, mocked, and abused. This is quite a remarkable shift in circumstances, yet as we enter into the most important week in our church calendar, we are reminded in today’s psalm to maintain hope amid times of darkness to come. “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver; let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
Office of Youth Faith Development