No, I haven't been to see "The Passion of the Christ," and for a number of reasons, I don't plan to go. Most reviewers have labeled the film as the most brutally violent they have ever seen.
I wish that I lived in a time in which it would be hard to imagine the suffering that Jesus endured. What challenges me is something else altogether. I find it harder to imagine the love, his love.
Jesus had a love that was willing to submit to this brutality in order to reveal to all humanity a power far greater than hate. A love that didn't wilt under the assault of the grossest brutality. A love that continued to pulse strongly for his family, his followers, even his persecutors, despite the torture inflicted on him.
One of the world's great spiritual thinkers and writers, Mary Baker Eddy, made this thought-provoking observation: "Jesus could have withdrawn himself from his enemies. He had power to lay down a human sense of life for his spiritual identity in the likeness of the divine; but he allowed men to attempt the destruction of the mortal body in order that he might furnish the proof of immortal life. Nothing could kill this Life of man. Jesus could give his temporal life into his enemies' hands; but when his earth-mission was accomplished, his spiritual life, indestructible and eternal, was found forever the same. He knew that matter had no life and that real Life is God; therefore he could no more be separated from his spiritual Life than God could be extinguished" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 51).
There is a lot of meat to chew on in that passage. One of the things it suggests to me is that a single-minded focus on the Passion - the suffering of Jesus - has a tendency to blind us to its purpose. Jesus' crucifixion wasn't an end unto itself. It was far from the end of the story. Indeed for centuries the suffering of Jesus was not the central focus of Christianity. The key message was his triumph over suffering. His triumph over hate. His triumph over death and the grave. This brought to humanity a light, a hope, a wonder that has never been extinguished. I haven't read about this in any review of the current film. It wasn't part of the director's purpose, but for me it means that the film's essential message is incomplete.
The suffering and crucifixion of Jesus cast a dark, impenetrable cloud over his disciples. Their hopes were shattered. Their belief in his message fell apart after these horrible events. For them the world had gone black. After his resurrection, Jesus found his disciples back in their boats fishing, fruitlessly. Jesus' resurrection changed everything.
For many, the most stirring lesson drawn from Jesus' passion was not the "brutal barbarity of his foes," as Mrs. Eddy called it, but the fact that nothing could put an end to this life of love (see Science and Health, page 564). This living love embodied by Jesus couldn't be ended by torture, couldn't be put to death, couldn't be hidden in a tomb.
Probably no event in Scripture is as dramatic as Mary's waking to the fact that Jesus had risen over death and the grave and was standing before her in the garden. Weeping, desperately searching for the Master's body in order to prepare it more properly for burial, she was the first to experience the shock and wonder of his resurrection. The light that radiated through her life still has the power to touch our hearts forcefully today.
Jesus' experience on the cross lies at the very heart of Christian faith. For centuries, the love that this experience represents has been a central point of the Gospels' message. As the discussion about the film continues, we may want to wrestle even more to understand the love that endured this brutality so that we, too, can experience the wonder of his resurrection.
the same yesterday,
and to day,
and for ever.