Superman and the savior of the world: the superhero’s saga

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This past week was a historic anniversary for pop culture aficionados around the world. It was the 80th anniversary of the creation of Superman celebrated in double-down fashion with the publication of Action Comics No. 1000, a feat no other comic book has ever accomplished!

Indeed, since 1938 in Action Comics No. 1, “big blue” has been showing up with that iconic “S” on his chest to save the day. Batman showed up in Detective comics only a year later, but Superman is the hero that brought “superhero” into the vernacular and, as many would argue, without whom there would be no superhero craze today.

It even astounded me to think back this past Sunday in preparation for my sermon as I reminisced that my first date was to the original Christopher Reeve movie version of Superman, I realized that I had to go halfway back, 40 years, to get to that cinematic moment. And as I reached back a little further in time, realized that the first comic book that I remember reading, World’s Finest No. 186 (a copy of which I still have today), featured both Batman and Superman in the storyline, and that my earliest TV memories as well as the famed Batman 1966 (in color no less) also included reruns of a certain man of steel portrayed by George Reeves in then-state-of-the-art black and white.

Now, through the years, Superman’s mythology has been enhanced a little and the details expanded, but he is still the epitome of the superhero Boy Scout standing for “Truth, Justice and the American Way!” (all of which we could use a boatload more of today). He is the son of another world sent by his father to this world where he was destined to have greater powers than the earth’s inhabitants in hopes that he could do great things. And it is because of his adoptive parents that he understands humanity and loves his adoptive world to such a degree that in the 1990s there is the famous storyline where Superman dies to save the world. But of course, after a year he came back. After all, no one dies in comic books, especially when sales are high!

Now, if that last little descriptive gave you some pause, especially since you may remember that I am a pastor writing this, don’t think that’s all contrived on my part. Kal-El, Superman’s original Kryptonian name, actually means “voice of God” in Hebrew, after all. Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster who created Superman so long ago have often been thought to have put some Messianic meaning from their Jewish backgrounds into their greatest character. And perhaps that underlying echo of religious zeal is what gets tapped into every time mild-mannered Clark Kent bursts forth with his red cape to save the helpless. It is an echo of what almost every religion, especially Christianity, promises on a very tangible scale.

I received a mug as a Christmas gift with a picture on it of several superheroes including Superman sitting on both sides of a seated Jesus figure in the middle. The only caption is Jesus saying to the spellbound heroes: “ ... and that’s how I saved the world.” Though I didn’t use that in my sermon Sunday, I did point out a book from 40 years ago called “The Man from Krypton” using the subtitle: “The Gospel According to Superman” which has a foreword by the late Billy Graham. And it is not such a strange thing to use Superman as an illustration to understand more fully God the Father sending his Son to this world to save it.

What is strange is that today there may possibly be more people familiar with the fictional Superman who saves the world from the supervillian Doomsday than are familiar with the real Savior who saves humanity from the doomsday of sin and death. And that is a tragedy!

In recent years, I have really taken to the new mythological insight that the “S” shield on Superman’s chest is not just an “S” but the Kryptonian symbol for hope. It’s the sign for his family, and a symbol that not only he, but his heritage, speaks from a place of hope. That symbol has been around for 80 years now.

On the other hand, as I did point out in my sermon on Sunday, we have the cross. It too is a symbol of hope. It too is associated with a hero. The cross, however, has been around for 2000 years.

My suspicion is: that’s the symbol of hope that will last into eternity. And perhaps we will only understand its fullness as we sit on either side of Jesus in eternity and hear him tell us: “ . . . and that’s how I saved the world . . . and you!”

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 26 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” will appear regularly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.