“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 1)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1; Luke 3; John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.  Part 2 is here.

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Lesson Part 1: Godspell

My sophomore year erupted in mild controversy.  My Indiana public high school’s arts department had selected Godspell as the spring musical.

A vocal contingent of Evangelical Christians protested:  Godspell mocks the Bible and blasphemes Christ by situating him among New York City hippies.  A smaller but also vocal contingent of students protested from another angle:  Godspell is inherently religious and its performance at a state school violates the Establishment Clause.

As both a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a budding First Amendment nerd, I sympathized with both arguments.  So what did I do?  I let the dual boycotts cancel each other out like opposing magnetic fields.  I bought tickets.

The lights dimmed, and a horn blew in the auditorium.  From the back of the theater, a lone voice cried in the wilderness:  “Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord.”  In an instant, I was spellbound.

What followed was a 2-hour irreverent yet utterly reverent celebration of the Gospel of Matthew & Jesus Christ.  One emotional highlight of the production came, for me, in “We Beseech Thee” — a joyful rock anthem about repentance and love.

Godspell lit a candle under my theological bushel.  What does it mean to believe in a living Christ?  What does it mean to celebrate a gospel of unfettered joy, rather than reverent solemnity? How can we prepare to receive Christ in our lives, not just in anticipation of the Second Coming, but right now?  What would it mean if Christ walked among our modern world?  Would we, would society, have the humility to listen?  Or would we cast him out of our temples as radical, and reject a prophet in our own lands?

These questions resonate, and the modern valence of Godspell breathes more life into them than many a glossy Church video set in antiquity.  Thus, as part of your family’s gospel study this week, I recommend you watch, or listen to a cast album, from Godspell.

The 1973 movie version is super campy, but not any more so than the (also 1973) Saturday’s Warrior. You’ll teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ AND entertain your children!

Ironically, the fact that a high school musical ranked up there with EFY and Girls Camps as a spiritual experience for my year also convinced me that it had no place in public schools.  Godspell and the surrounding controversy so affected and intrigued me that years later in law school I would write a First Amendment moot court problem and publish a paper inspired by it.

*Photo by Cory Woodward on Unsplash. 

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    An etymological note on godspell: We Mormons have a tendency to see the word as blasphemous somehow, for the “God” must in some way be taking the name of the Lord in vain. (At least that was my assumption as a boy.) The God is not the name of deity but Old English for “good” (originally pronounced with a long o sound), and the spell is not a witch’s spell but the word for a message or announcement. This is simply the Old English form of the word Gospel, which is a translation (indirectly, through Latin) of the Greek word euangelion, “a good message,” “the good news.” (We see eu- come into lots of English formations with the basic meaning of “good,” such as euthanasia, “a good death.”)

  2. Thank you for mentioning “Godspell”! As a seminary student I was taught that it was just as evil as “Jesus Christ Superstar” in denigrating the Savior. However, our seminary teacher’s constant harangue about “Godspell” had the opposite effect and made us students all the more eager to run out and buy the album. Frankly, the songs on the album made more sense in explaining the four gospels than reading the KJV version of the same gospels did. Another favorite tune that I find myself singing when life doesn’t seem fair is “All for the Best”.

  3. Godspell was important for me too. It gave me a feeling, an enthusiasm, about the “Jesus story” that I didn’t get from dry(-er) reading and sit-down lessons. I didn’t learn anything textually, but I did have a wake-up to the varieties (and value in variety) of religious experience.

    Thank you, Kevin, for the succinct “godspell” etymology. One of those things I “know” but don’t know in a way I could say it in two or three sentences.

  4. Godspell had a profound effect on my during my junior year of high school. I felt the spirit watching my classmates perform it, complete with the Superman shirt on Jesus, than I ever felt at church.

  5. I only saw Godspell for the first time a year ago, and the sort of city that musical calls us to genuinely haunts me.

  6. My LDS home was drenched in the sweet, sweet sounds of Godspell. Religion as joy! Also, the stage show and movie (once I discovered them in middle school) taught me the parables.

    Godspell is pretty common high school musical fodder. I suspect it’s generally considered safe territory in great part because it doesn’t delve into Jesus’s divinity really at all. It focuses on Jesus as teacher almost exclusively.

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