I picked up a book last week called The Resurrection of the Son of God by Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar, NT Wright. I’ve always appreciated Wright’s work because he makes what could easily be a dry and boring field of study (Biblical Theology), drains it of its dogma, and reintroduces traditional Christianity for a new world hungry for a word from God.
Also last week, I finally got around to seeing The Passion of the Christ on DVD. As I watched it I kept in mind all the commentaries, reviews, conversations and arguments that I heard, read, or participated in. Many of my more conservative friends said they were moved by the film because they felt they witnessed the sacrifice that Jesus made for them. Others, suggested that the film was excessively violent and portrayed Jesus as some divine macho-man who endured horrific torture and met death without so much as a muffled scream. Yet others complained of the films supposed anti-Semitism (a criticism, for which I have some sympathy).
But I saw the film differently. I was surprised by how deeply I was moved by it. I saw it almost as a mirror into myself and the world we inherited. The glee with which the Roman soldiers whipped and tortured Jesus (while not historically accurate, they provided the film with strong theological content, making the movie less a historical re-enactment as much as it is a devotional and theological expression of the mystery of Jesus the Son of God dying the death of sinful humanity – our death. The Roman army may have been brutal, but they were also disciplined and would not have enjoyed scourging someone with the cruel abandon with which the soldiers were portrayed in the film) echoed the glee with which many kill innocent victims and claim a victory for themselves, for their god, or for their country (or all three).
Both the film and the book made me question the ease with which we speak of “Christ crucified and risen” as if his death was little more than a theological construct and his resurrection was scarcely other than a pithy postscript added on to an otherwise dark and difficult story.
As I read the book and watched the movie, I was struck by how well the two experiences worked together. The film (with all its flaws) brought to life the world that Wright described. The strength of our faith story lies deep in its historical roots, a particular history of the God of Israel made flesh in the human being named Jesus.
When we reflect upon who we are as a people of God, and as we plan for the future, it is important for us to remember who this particular God is when we ask ourselves, “What does it mean to follow the poor man from Nazareth, who was tortured and executed, and who rose from the dead three days later?” This is a question that challenges me in my work. This is a question that I hope challenges all of us as we look ahead in great anticipation to where God is leading us.