By Rev. Mindi
On Palm Sunday, I went to the last show of a six-week musical run at our local little theater. I went to the last show of Jesus Christ Superstar. I really wish I hadn’t gone to the last show only so that I could urge others to go see this fantastic production, but the last show was incredible. Amazing. The band rocked, the voices were incredible, and many numbers received applause afterwards or reverent silence.
Did I mention that it was an all-female cast?
I have seen passion plays and other productions of Jesus Christ Superstar that were good, but this is the only production that has ever left me with tears in my eyes, unable to speak.
Just as in Shakespearean days with the actors being all men playing both parts, so in this production, the actors were all female and played all roles. They didn’t change the words of the songs. They still referred to each other as “he,” referred to Jesus and Judas as that “man,” but they told this old story in a new way, even new from the original production.
As I watched this Jesus, beaten, stripped, covered with blood, raised up on a cross writhing in pain and crying out, I saw Jesus. Maybe at first it was the just-below-shoulder-length brown hair, the way this Jesus looked at others, or the crown of thorns, but for a moment, I forgot that this Jesus was a woman. At first I thought this was powerful: an image of Jesus that transcended (trans-cended) gender. But then, as this Jesus became a victim of violence, I saw
the woman who was raped in Steubenville
Malala Yousufzai, shot by the Taliban in Pakistan
Mollie Olgin, killed and her partner Mary Chapa injured last summer in Texas
and countless others, named and nameless women raped, injured and killed every day in our culture of violence, specifically the culture of violence against women.
This Jesus was no longer gender-less, but fully human, male and female.
The suffering of this Jesus was raw, emotional, and right in front of us. Not a story we could skip the page, not a name we could forget, not a newscast we could pass over. This was Jesus, in front of us, bearing the wounds and scars that go forgotten by so many. This Jesus that first impressed me by being portrayed in line with traditional renditions, then surprised me by seeming to go beyond gender, lastly brought me to tears because this Jesus was a woman.
This Jesus showed the horror of violence, but specifically because Jesus was being played by a woman, and the actress was phenomenal in her keeping to the role as traditionally played while showing her genuine, raw emotion—no one could ignore the fact that this production seriously calls into question our glorification of violence in our culture, and specifically, our culture that encourages violence against women.
As we near the Cross of Good Friday, and the empty tomb of Sunday, I know I will visualize the story differently, and I hope as a pastor, I will tell the story differently. No more will I see the women on the sideline until the resurrection. No more will I only see a crucified man up on the cross. I see Jesus, beyond and inclusive of gender, taking up the fullness of humanity in life and in death, overcoming our violence that leads to destruction and death in the resurrection. In Jesus, I have hope that we will end our violence, both the spoken and unspoken, both violence against men and women, young and old, violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—violence against all people. Jesus came in the fullness of human life. All too often, we tell the story of Jesus as God becoming a man, instead of the Word becoming Flesh, God entering our humanity. We must tell the full story of Jesus, and to do so, we must acknowledge the fullness of humanity that has suffered, the same suffering that Jesus went through, in Jesus’ death on the cross.