Tim Rice, Master Evangelist?

We opened Holy Week with Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s Palm Sunday pieces. Now on Good Friday it’s worth returning again to how the pair present the crucifixion and questions around it.

If you stop and listen to the questions that Judas asks Jesus in the song “Jesus Christ Superstar”, you hear the cry of the unchurched inquisitive masses. Rice wrote these lyrics at a time when the liberal culture of the 60s was beginning to shape the mass culture of the 70s. Church attendance was dropping (even plummeting) and religious literacy was falling with it. Now a generation later, the 70s look positively healthy as regards the numeric state of Christianity in this country.

But with the decline of the Church and professing Christians has come an increase in the need for, and the practice of, evangelism of the masses. And in this light, Rice’s lyrics in the midst of the crucifixion echo the cry of the seeker. The song “Superstar” is riddled with questions, questions that are asked directly of Jesus.

Ev’ry time I look at you
I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did
Get so out of hand
You’d have managed better
If you’d had it planned
Now why’d you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?

If you’d come today
You could have reached a whole nation
Isreal in 4 BC
Had no mass communication

Don’t you get me wrong
Only want to know

Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ
Do you think you’re what they say you are?
Jesus Christ
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

Tell me what you think
About your friends at the top
Now who d’you think besides yourself
Was the pick of the crop?
Buddah was he where it’s at?
Is he where you are?
Could Mohammed move a mountain
Or was that just PR?
Did you mean to die like that?
Was that a mistake or
Did you know your messy death
Would be a record breaker?

These are the core questions that attendees on courses like Alpha eventually ask. Jesus Christ – what have you sacrificed? Did you mean to die? Are you really who these people say you are, the incarnate YHWH?

Jesus Christ Superstar has been criticised by many for closing with Jesus’ death and not showing us the resurrection. But in some senses that is an evangelistic masterpiece. Instead of the answers Tim Rice, wittingly or unwittingly, leaves us with questions and demands of us, like the Gospel writers themselves do, that we come to some conclusion as to what we think.

The cross demands of us today a simple decision – Jesus Christ, who are you? Jesus Christ, what have you sacrificed? The Scriptures tell us that our answer to those simple questions will determine our eternal situation, our life with God now and for evermore.

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