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The Passion of the Christ 
 
As I was waiting to go into a Church leaders preview showing of Mel Gibsonís most controversial movie I was intrigued by the conversations. A couple of clergy were sharing their apprehensions. I was a little uncertain as to why. When they asked me, I was quick to point out in a slightly humorous kind of what that the cross has always been pretty central to my faith. But there was not too much humor going that day. (There is one joke in the film but I wonít spoil it--make the most of it!). 
 
ďThe Bible doesnít concentrate much on the gore,Ē was one ministerís response. I have to say I was rather taken aback. Isaiah is pretty gruesome reading and he described the events hundreds of years before they happened. The Gospels lay out slappings and spittings and lashings with clubs, swords and thorns. 
 
ďSo do we just wet wipe out the blood?Ē I asked, absolutely baffled. Depicting the facts of the Gospels without it being gory seems impossible to me but maybe that is what the Church has been doing ever since Calvary; wiping out the gory bits not only of the central event of our faith but of the whole of life; make it nice and respectable. I was disturbed by the conversation. Very disturbed.
 
And of course the next two hours would be disturbing too. As it should be. This is a disturbing twelve hours in one life; in all our lives. That it should be an 18 rating in the UK is ironic as many of those who most champion the movie have been campaigning against violence in movies for years and years. Those of us whose faith is built on the most violent event in history should be careful how we throw around our accusations at Hollywood. But again, we may be a wet wipe Church; running all the time from the harsh reality of a fallen world.
 
The movie is simply the most violent I have ever sat through. It is an intensity of pain and suffering. This again is as it should be, but it is where I find my biggest qualm about the movie. For years I have preached on the facts of Christís suffering on his road to the cross, from the blood in his sweat in Gethsemane where this movie opens to the agony of the cross itself. I have catalogued it from each gospel, and so has Gibson, very meticulously. Then, however, he adds to it. I donít mean here in the way that the soldiers brought Jesus back from Gethsemane because the Bible is very clear in saying that they came for him with swords and clubs; I am guessing they would use them for a little fun. No, it was the lashings on the way to the cross that took it beyond the factual. The lashings that Pilate gave him in an attempt to appease the Jewish leaders sets the appearance of Jesus apart from those of the convicts crucified either side of him but that he would have continued to have been lashed on his way out to Calvary seemed a little over the top to me. Gibson might of course be including some Roman Catholic tradition into the story at this point but my fear is that this seeming exaggeration could lead many to dismiss the factual torture of which there is more than enough without adding to it.
 
On the less gory storylines, I was intrigued by the characters around Jesus. There are people in the Passion that I have rarely stopped to consider and they came alive to me with all kinds of ponderings. The guy who loses his ear to Peter and then finds the one he came to arrest putting it back on. Peter, who in the intensity of the moment you can forgive for betrayal; even some of my colleagues were trying to run from the gory bits! Simon, who carries the cross for him; what must that have done to a manís soul! His mother. How does a mother deal with such events? No doubt squeamish and irrational Protestants will have problems with Maryís presence but it is done poignantly and no matter what theology you draw out of it, which Gibson doesnít, the fact is she was his mother, for goodness sake!
 
There are other wonderful insights. There is a scene in Gethsemane where the devil who hovers around the entire script sends a serpent out just like in Eden. Gibson then marvelously expounds the Genesis 3 verse where the serpent is told he will strike Jesus heal but he will crush the serpents head. Jesus does exactly that in the first shuddering instant of the film and the whole audience jumps out of their seats. It is a powerful symbol.
 
The old Gospel song asks, Were you there when they crucified my Lord? I have imagined it for years but now I can say yes, I have been! Every Christian should be there and now Mel Gibson has given us the opportunity. Seeing and hearing and almost feeling the price of our salvation can only change our lives. How those who do not claim Jesus will see the movie and respond to it only time will tell. I would have to say that it is not entertainment. This is a spiritual experience and the most incredible movie experience but will those without a spiritual eye see it the same as I did?
 
When the movie finished everyone just sat still. No one moved for what seemed like a few minutes and then slowly and silently people left. I got up and without as much as a goodbye to those I sat with walked out the back, through the main door and to my car. I felt that the world was different. My perspectives had changed. I had to see everything with a new focus. I was dumbstruck the whole way home. I still untangle it days later. I donít know that I could watch it again. Maybe once is enough but then, isnít that the way we see the cross? Once was enough. 
 
Steve Stockman 
 
 
Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has just finished a book on U2, Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2, is the poetic half of Stevenson and Samuel who have just released their debut album Gracenotes, and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul). He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine 

 
 

 

 
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