On Sunday, March 20th, Fox Network presented a live musical rendition of The Passion – from New Orleans. I was able to watch the program a few weeks later online using Hulu. Though I am not a trained film/TV critic, I want to offer a few thoughts as a pastor about the pros and cons of the presentation.
On the ‘critical’ side, I felt like it was a bit glitzy and cheesy. Glamorous people playing the parts of characters from the gospel seemed a little odd to me. I could not quite get my mind around Trisha Yearwood with glittering earrings being Mary the mother of Jesus (though I think she sang beautifully). The ‘glow-in-the-dark’ giant cross being carried through the streets of New Orleans was also a strange way to portray the deadly seriousness of the real cross of Jesus. I could probably come up with about 20 other cheese and glitz criticisms of the program if I put my mind to it – but if you set that all aside, there were some parts of the program that I could also appreciate, and that I think you could too.
What I think followers of Jesus can appreciate about The Passion:
- The multi-ethnic cast of characters. People of all races and backgrounds came together to pay tribute to what Jesus said and did in his final days. Jesus and the disciples were a mix of lots of different skin colors, as were all of the musicians and gospel choir members. The people chosen to carry the cross through the streets of New Orleans were of all different ages and ethnicities also. Seeing various races singing, weeping, worshipping, and celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus helps us to catch a vision for the church that is larger than most of our ethnically homogeneous churches are able to provide.
- The combination of sacred and secular music to tell the story. The mix of different types of music was odd at times, but it bore witness to the way God uses all forms of beauty and art to help stir our hearts and draw us near to the heart of God. Just as God spoke through Balaam’s donkey in the book of Numbers, God can also speak through various forms of music, even if the original writers of the music did not intend any religious goals. This part of the program helped me to have a larger sense of the way God works in the world – God is constantly “up to something” in the world even if pastors and missionaries are not right there on the scene to preach, teach, and lead.
- The redemption of a broken city. About 11 years ago, New Orleans was severely damaged in Hurricane Katrina. It was great to see a city so ravaged by those events to come together and celebrate God’s ability to bring hope to hopeless situations. Many of the citizens of New Orleans who were interviewed talked about the city’s recovery from Katrina – and how God gave them hope and help to get through the suffering and to work together to rebuild.
- The cross being carried through the city streets. Though the “light-up” plastic cross seemed a little artificial – the symbolism was helpful. The cross of Jesus definitely is the shining light of the church since it is on the cross that Jesus purchased the forgiveness of our sins by his act of ultimate love and sacrifice. Seeing the cross carried right through the infamous Bourbon Street was an important sign of the way that Jesus went out into the darkest parts of human experience so that prostitutes and tax-collectors and other ‘unworthies’ would be able to hear and respond to his Gospel message. I think the image of seeing the cross carried down Bourbon Street is a challenge to us in the church to think about how we can bring the light of Christ more fully to those who most need the Gospel.
Of course, so many of the people who were part of this huge public musical extravaganza, have little or no commitment to the Lord Jesus. They were there to see some popular stars perform and hear live music. They may have just come out to see what was going on. In that way, it was not a lot different from the worship services in most churches where people of various levels of belief and commitment (and some with no commitment to God at all) come together to see what might be going on in relation to the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Though this particular program was not exactly my cup of tea (I spent much of the two hours listening from the kitchen while doing other things), I have to applaud Tyler Perry and his crew for trying something creative to reach people for Jesus. They made a sincere effort to get the gospel story out there in a way that might cause a few people who might not normally come to church on Sunday to consider what the cross of Jesus means for our cities, our communities, and each one of us.