Jesus Christ (and Mary Magdalene) still mean something to people in Britain

Melanie C Photo: Ian West/PA Wire/Press Association Images

I have always been interested in the world of pop music, from the outside, as it were. You have to know something about it as a priest in order to communicate with the young. Thus it was with great interest that I read today of the latest career move of Melanie Chisholm, Mel C of the Spice Girls, the one they used to call Sporty Spice, and who was always rumoured to be the most musically talented of the girl band.

She is to play Mary Magdalene in the latest revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

Miss Chisholm has this to say: 

“I’m not a religious person,” says Chisholm, 38, lightly. “I lean more towards spirituality, but I do have a lot of respect for people who hold strong beliefs.
“It’s exciting to play Mary Magdalene because what she represents is the ultimate in redemption. In this show you can see that Mary’s had quite a tough life and she’s had to do certain things to get by.”

The bit about respect for people with strong beliefs is enough to make a grown up anti-Christian cry, I suppose; and even a Christian would have to say that strongly held beliefs deserve respect in so far as they are true and good, not becaue they are strongly held per se. When she mentions leaning towards the spiritual, Miss Chisholm tells us that she is in fact like a significant tranche of the British population: not religious, not hostile either, adhering to a series of rather “soft” positions, but not an adherent of a dogmatic system. In other words she is, like so many others, living in the penumbra of Christianity, in the shadow of a faith that was once all-embracing but is now in retreat.

This reminds me of Jesus Christ Superstar itself. It is mixed work, to my mind, combing some great music and some profound insight, amidst much that veers towards the banal. It represents the fruits of a picking over the ruins of Christianity: its connection with great Christian works of art, like Handel’s Messiah is tenuous, but real.

There is still a chance for Christian revival in this country. (With God all things are possible of course, but I am taking a purely human perspective here.) Jesus Christ means something, spirituality means something, still, just. But the best sliver of light and hope is represented in what Melanie Chisholm says about Mary Magdalene, which is actually quite theological: “She represents … the ultimate in redemption. You can see that Mary’s had quite a tough life and she’s had to do certain things to get by.”

Miss Chisholm is right about this: you look at Mary Magdalene and you see an icon of redemption, you see what divine power can do in a human being when given the chance. As for Mary having a tough life and getting by in whatever way she did, well, that is true as well. We all make compromises, and I have met many people who have come to God by difficult paths. But they came to God in the end, and that is all that matters really.

When we look at Mary Magdalene, and see how she came to God and came to be the saint she is, don’t we feel the pull of the divine, the desire for grace, the longing for redempption? I know I do!

As for Miss Chisholm, may her show be a huge success. And may she, like the rest of us, make progress on this earthly pilrimage. For her and for us, the moment of grace is ever–present.