Last week I wrote a blog titled “Palm Sunday”, reflecting on the season of Lent just ended and the significance of this event when Jesus entered Jerusalem fully aware of the fate to befall him. While on the Easter day we do well to reflect on Jesus rising from the dead as the all conquering victor over sin,death and the devil, prior to that was the passion, culminating in this death on a cross. As I have been reflecting on that event, as I have done many times before and being part of a Christian set up that regarded this as highly important, I thought I would watch a film that I first saw some ten years ago, soon after it was released – “The Passion of the Christ”.
According to Wikipedia – The Passion of the Christ is a 2004 American epic biblical drama film directed by Mel Gibson. It depicts the Passion of Jesus largely according to the Gospels and other pious, often Catholic leaning, accounts. The film covers primarily the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life, beginning with the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the grieving of the Virgin Mary, but ending with a brief depiction of his resurrection. Flashbacks of Jesus as a child and as a young man with Mary his mother, giving the Sermon on the Mount, teaching the Twelve Apostles, and at the Last Supper are some of the images depicted. The dialogue is entirely in reconstructed Aramaic and Latin with vernacular subtitles. The film has been highly controversial and received mixed reviews, with some critics claiming that the extreme violence in the film “obscures its message.”Catholic sources have questioned the authenticity of the non-biblical material the film drew on (and not just Catholics – ed). The film, however, was a major commercial hit, grossing in excess of $600 million during its theatrical release.
I should say firstly that films of this ilk normally do not particularly interest me and I realise there have been many attempts over the years to reconstruct these events. I am mindful of the criticisms and accept there is some validity in them. After all, trying to depict what really happened from just brief accounts from the four Gospels is a challenging task and requires a lot of imagination and a degree of license. But overall, while I would take issue with how true some of the non-biblical material that was included, I felt the film succeeded in portraying in essence what did take place and especially as to the significance of what was happening, and some who have been touched, including me. One of the criticisms of the film was it over-emphasized the violence toward Jesus and paid scant attention to the all important event – his resurrection, but I disagree. Firstly, the stark grittiness and portrayal of raw humanity was particularly compelling. Secondly, the film was about the Passion of the Christ. Thirdly, even though we watch two hours of Jesus enduring countless sufferings and humiliations, the one minute devoted to his rising from the dead was powerfully poignant. I came away with the deep impression that he endured all this for me and, despite all that was thrown at him, he rose victorious over everything.
Which brings us to Easter Day! Some Christians emphasize Christmas – God incarnate coming into the world as a helpless baby. Others emphasize Good Friday (see above) – Jesus Christ the Son of God dying and atoning for our sins on the cross. Still others emphasize Easter – Jesus Christ rising triumphant, offering new life to all who put their hope in him. And all three emphases are right but need to be held in balance. But Easter is the day we are reminded that some of his followers came to the tomb where Jesus was buried, only to find it was empty. What continues to fascinate and enthrall me are the various stories recounted around the resurrection. The first person to see Jesus after he rose was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who thought at first that it was the gardener. When Jesus walked with the two travelers along the road to Emmaus, who were disappointed at the ignominious death of their hoped for Messiah, even though their hearts were stirred as Jesus explained to them it was all in fulfillment of prophecy, it wasn’t until quite late on that that realized it was indeed he. Doubting Thomas refused to believe the account of the other disciples that Jesus had risen unless he saw him with his own eyes and touched him with his own hands, an opportunity that was soon and surprisingly to be afforded him. These and other happenings have a very human and real touch that I find compelling.
Easter is significant in many ways. The reason for the season, like Christmas, has often been forgotten and the thoughts of many, spurred on by commercial interests, turn to chocolate eggs, fluffy bunnies and such like, but the reason remains as important as ever. Firstly, if the story is true, Jesus is not a fraud or a deluded person but rather he is who he said he is, the eternal Son of God., Saviour of the world And if he is the Son of God, there is no reason for our not believing and following him. Secondly, the story gives us hope of new and abundant life. For those who suffer and when there seems no end to that suffering, there is that promise of new life. Thirdly, it settles the question of is there life beyond the grave, given Jesus conquered evil and death. Death and resurrection go together in Christian parlance, not just in the case of Jesus but for us too. As sinners, we are spiritually dead, but in Christ we are made alive. As followers of Jesus, we are told to take up our cross daily, die to self, and follow him and thus experience new life. According to the ancient liturgy, this is the one day more than any other when it can be said “Christ is risen”, to which we can respond: “He is risen indeed”. After the sober reflecting of Lent, followed by the intense human drama of Holy week, this is the day we can truly celebrate.