Back in Lent, Arwen Mosher over at Faith and Family Live asked this question: The Passion on Good Friday: Would You Watch? In which she described how her father watches the movie The Passion of the Christ each Good Friday but she cannot bring herself to do the same.
I read the comments with some interest because I never have, nor do I plan to, see the movie. I know, I'm waiting to burst into flames any minute, but seriously, I experienced the intensity when I read the accounts in the Bible of the Passion and I have spent much time in front of the Blessed Sacrament contemplating and re-reading. It is real to me. I cry about it. Often.
One commenter mentioned how she resisted the movie because it became a test of how good a Christian you were. Amen sister, no one knows this but yourself and God and if seeing a movie wins you a seat in heaven, why didn't everyone see it?
However, I do not think people were wrong to see the movie or if they watch it each and every Good Friday. What I do think is wrong is the commodification of the Passion of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.
I was in shock at the number of my Protestant friends who spend Easter Sunday watching the movie (which is about the Passion, it occurred on Good Friday) but I was more undone by the number of people I knew who were creating "movie night" with this film. Popcorn, pizza, jammies, the works. This is the story of redemption of evil over sin, this is not a chick flick or action-adventure complete with car chase and explosions. So why are we treating it this way?
I found an answer at this post on Faith and Family Live about what is good about Protestantism.
The first commenter Inge, describes it this way:
Protestants love Jesus as the Victorious Savior.
When talking about Christ, a lot of Protestants stress only one side of Jesus: He is the one who was victorious over death and we share in this victory. The other side is hardly talked about: Christ as the suffering servant. Christ suffered a lot during his life on earth, his Passion was the crown on his work her (sic) on earth. There's hardly an interest in Protestant theology for this side. The fact that they only show a cross without corpus is very telling in this respect. The focus on the suffering Saviour is very Catholic.
Inge introduces this idea by mentioning she spent years as a Protestant before converting. However, even the cradle Catholic in me still sees this is true. What many forget is that Jesus had a ministry before his Passion, death and resurrection.
He had followers before this time (including Mary, his mother, another sore spot for Protestants). He had 12 special followers called apostles. One of them, Simon Peter, didn't just play a pivotal role at the Passion when he denied Christ 3 times, he also tested Jesus' strength when he was allowed to walk on water. He became the first Pope.
He preached sermons. He drove money-changers out of the temple. He performed miracles. He cast out demons.
Jesus Christ was crucified, died and was buried. On the 3rd day He rose again. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. But before all of that, He impressed the teachers in the temple with his knowledge and understanding and He converted thousands.
When we neglect this part of Christ's life, we neglect Christ's truth. When we ignore what Christ did on earth before he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey while people waved palm branches and sing "Hosanna in the highest" we are ignoring teachings at the core of our faith.
What Mel Gibson did when he brought the Passion of Jesus Christ to the big screen was too fold: he exposed millions to our Lord and God, but he also commodified it and glorified just one portion of his life. So, like everything else "cool" it can be put in a case and put away for a time. And it can color someone's entire view with one slim glance. It shows people that to be good Christians you only have to believe part of the story.
I applaud Gibson's intentions, but I abhor the results I see when people are making snacks to enjoy during the movie. People are watching it for a reaction they feel when they see it. A reaction that we should be having more than just once a year.
Our local paper invited clergy of multiple faiths to a screening and asked them questions afterward, you can read the entire article here. What was most interesting to me, was the reaction of my priest at the time Father John Gillespie. He did not believe this movie deserved the extra attention it got. (And let's face it, that's the most attention Jesus has gotten in a while, why? Not because of what He preached, but because a Hollywood actor recreated his final moments.) Two statements of Father John's stood out to me in particular:
When asked: Do you think the Gospel message of love and forgiveness was part of the film?
Father Gillespie responded: "It got sort of drowned out through a lot of the violence. If I had to compare this to a symphony, there was a lot of drums and cymbals, and I couldn't hear the violins."
When asked: Overall did you enjoy this movie?
Father Gillespie responded: "Joy's not the right word."
In response to the same question Reverend Mark Opgrand the associate pastor at a local Lutheran church responded this way: "There was a huge wince factor in this movie that was so manipulative. But the divinity of Jesus did not come across."
I think these responses are incredibly telling about why I continue not to want to see this film. I do not want Jesus to be "too cool" for me to approach as my savior. I do not want Christ to be something that gets put into a box and forgotten. I need to hear the violins in the symphony of Christ's life and ministry. As Hank Hill tells his son Bobby on King of the Hill when he pulls Bobby out of a Christian rock group, "You're not making Christianity better, you're making rock and roll worse." And when we put a price tag, when we make Christ a movie star, we're not doing much better.
So, please continue watching the Passion of the Christ on Good Friday if you choose. I see nothing wrong with that. However, make sure you are giving yourself over completely to that experience. And make sure you are remembering daily not just that Christ triumphed over life, but that He taught us lessons while He was here on earth that may not always be cool, but never go out of style.
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