I never really understood just what “The Passion” meant until just a few years ago. I’m not a “cradle Catholic” and the Protestant churches I went to never performed Passion plays, so the term was a little lost on me. I knew the story about Jesus being crucified, but I just didn’t know that there was a term for it that encompassed that period of time. It wasn’t until we moved to Nashville and began attending St. Edwards that I was even exposed to it. For me it was like an ambush. It was Palm Sunday and as I sat in the pew, ready to participate in the Mass, a drama unfolded right before my eyes. In this little play, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and his eventual crucifixion was played out. It was shocking, horrifying and gut wrenching and this was just a little community drama done in church. What Mel Gibson has done with his movie, The Passion Of The Christ is take it to a whole new level.
The “Passion” existed before Mel Gibson decided to make a movie about it. It is a staple of the Catholic faith and of many other Christian faiths. But why? Because it’s easy to forget, that’s why. As we go through out daily lives and deal with all the issues that face us, it’s easy to lose sight of why we believe what we believe. Every faith has some form of “refocusing” where you’re supposed to turn your attention to your faith for a period of time. For Catholics, this time of year is called Lent and it’s the time of year where you’re supposed to remember why you’re a Christian and what being a Christian means. On Palm Sunday the Passion is the focus of attention and forms the cornerstone of the Christian faith – Jesus was the son of God and he died for our sins. He died to absolve us of Original Sin and to provide us with everlasting life.
So every year Christians re-enact an ultra-violent play? No. Every church does things differently. For example, some faiths display Jesus on the cross and others don’t. Go into a Methodist church and you’ll see a very simple cross at the front of the church. Go to a Catholic one and you’ll see a cross with Jesus. For some, the image of Jesus on the cross is overkill. They feel that the simple cross gets the point across. I’m not arguing one way is better than another, just that there are differences between various faiths and even various churches within a faith. The Passion is much the same way. Some churches simply read the passages from the Bible and leave it at that. No drama, no actors, just the story. For some churches, it’s a very elaborate production that involves months and months of rehearsing and preparation.
My first experience with a Passion play was a memorable experience to say the least. Not being prepared for it was one thing, but the biggest impact was just being shown exactly what took place. You get numb to the fact that Jesus, wether you believe he was the Messiah or not, was flogged, beaten, whipped and then nailed to a cross. As a Believer, you get used to saying the words and going through the rituals every Sunday and the idea of doing a Passion play is to remind you of exactly what He did for us. Even if you’re an avid reader of the Bible, exactly what took place could be lost upon you. I know it was on me. That one sentance in Mark has a truckload of meaning behind it, but it’s easy to gloss over it since it’s only one word in one sentance. The original readers of the Bible knew what flogging meant. That term has all but lost it’s meaning to us today. When was the last time you saw someone flogged? So when that word appears, we may not understand exactly what it means. The idea isn’t to shock you into reaffirming your beliefs per se, but it is designed to serve as a wake up call and to bring into sharp focus exactly what Jesus went through.
Mel Gibson’s movie is absolutely brilliant. It’s beautifully shot and a complete masterpiece of filmmaking (guess you know my review of the movie don’t you? 🙂 ) Most “Christian” movies are low budget, low quality productions. Christian production companies don’t have the money Hollywood does, so their productions don’t have the talent that movie goers have become accustomed to. Watch Left Behind and you’ll see what I mean. The book was great, the movie is garbage. So it’s a bit of a miracle that “The Passion Of The Christ” was made on the level that it was. If it hadn’t been for Mel Gibson having the conviction to put up his own money, it never would have been made. He felt he had to make this movie regardless of what Box Office it would draw and I think what is so surprising to everyone is that there IS a ton of Box Office for this type of film.
As I mentioned earlier, there are a ton of different faiths, or denominations, that are Christian based. Living here in Nashville I see them all and they are quite diverse. Some believe that you shouldn’t have musical instruments in Church because the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus ever played an instrument, or used one in his worship. Others have complete rock bands and huge stadium style services. The Christian faith runs the gambit and each faith believes strongly in the tenants of their faith. However, no matter what you believe as a Christian, there is one fundamental belief that EVERY faith has in common. Gibson’s film is galvanizing the diverse Christian believers as is representative by the Box Office this movie is bringing in.
As of March 12th, “The Passion Of The Christ” has been number one at the box office since it’s release 3 weeks ago. It’s currently brought in over $264.510 million dollars in the US alone and is expected to be the biggest grossing film of all time. It’s currently ranked 18th in the Top Movies Of All Time in only 19 days of it’s initial release. To give some perspective, that’s more than The Matrix Reloaded and it was released 10 months ago and includes worldwide figures. It’s also the highest grossing Rated-R film of all time. Quite a feat for a movie that had difficulty even find a distributor. [Edit: preliminary numbers show that “The Passion Of The Christ” was second for the weekend of March 19th. Those numbers are not included in this article.]
Part of it’s success is that it’s an extremely well made film. Regardless of your beliefs, it’s a fantastic movie – if you’re a Christian though, it’s even more than that. As a Believer, the movie impacts you deeper than any other movie could. To see exactly what happened to the central figure in your faith will not only pluck your heart strings, it will rip those strings out of you completely.
I went to go see the movie on Saturday. I didn’t go see it on it’s release because I knew what to expect and I wasn’t ready for it. If you know a movie is going to be sad, you usually have to be in the “mood” as it were to see a sad movie. “You know, I think I could stand to see a movie that’s going to make me cry”, you might say before you plan to watch Forest Gump, or even Saving Private Ryan, but you REALLY have to be prepared to see a movie where your God is killed before your eyes. So by this Saturday, I felt I was ready to experience “The Passion Of The Christ“, knowing full well that there is no way to be prepared for this film.
I’ll save my review of the film for a different entry, but suffice to say that I’m a different person because of this movie. If I wasn’t sitting in a coffee shop right now, I’d be bawling like a baby and I’m bitting my lip at this very moment to try and hold back the tears. I couldn’t take communion last Sunday and just thinking about my Lord and Savior makes me cry. Am I feeling and acting this way just because it was a sad movie? Hardly. What brought on this well spring of emotion is that watching the Passion brought into crystal clear focus of what Jesus did for me and you. I do believe that Jesus died for our sins and this film made it clear that was no small undertaking.
There was a lot of hype and controversy surrounding this movie. One of the central elements of the controversy was “Who killed Jesus?” Jews were afraid that Gibson’s movie would portray the Jews as Jesus’ murderer and would be thus be anti-Semitic and breed more anti-semitism. Those defending the movie have said that it was the Romans that murdered Jesus. When I saw the movie, I took a whole different perspective. Who killed Jesus? I did. You did. We all did. Roman, Jew, Christian, we all had a hand in Jesus’ death in some way shape or form.
I’m not saying that I personally picked up a whip, but have I not denied Him just as Peter did 3 times? Have I not, through things I said, or done, been totally defiant of His teachings and what I’ve pledged time and time again to believe? This isn’t a guilt trip I’m on. I’m not beating myself up saying “Oh I’m such a sinner”. I’m simply taking stock of myself and holding myself accountable. THAT’s what this movie did for me. I sat there hunkered down in my seat, gripping the armrests with such force that my hands ached and all the while wanting to scream “STOP IT!” as I openly wept. Was it the Romans that I wanted to stop, or was it myself? Certainly I wanted the scourge to stop, but at the same time I was completely aware that my own actions and deeds have been just as abominable. My internal scream to stop applied as much to my own sins as to the unspeakable acts being displayed on the screen.
The challenge of faith, any faith, is how to do make real something that is unseen? In a world of facts and figures, how do you convey a completely clear understanding of exactly what your faith means? It’s one thing to say you understand something, but there’s another point when you really know it. I understand the concept of raising a child, but until I have actually done it, I know I don’t really know. Faith is no different and what “The Passion Of The Christ” did for me was bring me back to ground zero of my beliefs as a Christian. From what I’ve heard from other people who have seen this movie, I’m not alone.
As I sit here in this coffee shop typing out my thoughts to share with you, I’m left asking myself, “What do I do now?” I’m standing face-to-face with my Lord and Savior and I have to reconcile my relationship with Him. Being a Christian means that I have a personal relationship with God and here recently I haven’t been calling, or writing. I’ve been negligent. I’ve been lost in my own world an inattentive of our relationship. Yet, as I said earlier, there’s no big need to wallow in guilt and shame. Jesus said “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” and he’s waiting with open arms to welcome me home. I want to run as fast as I can and I have to giggle as a little voice inside of me whispers “Run Forest, Run!” 🙂
I’m not trying to preach to anyone. I don’t enjoy anyone shoving their beliefs down my throat anymore than you do. My purpose in writing this entry is simply to share my own thoughts regarding this film outside the context of my usual movie reviews. That being said, I openly welcome anyone wishing to discuss this further, especially if you don’t agree with me, or simply want to learn more about what I believe. You can either post a comment to this entry, or contact me privately via e-mail.
Thanks for the comments Michael. I too felt similarly while watching The Passion. This Sunday’s communion was not the same, that’s for sure.
Excellent commentary on a wonderful movie. I appreciate your sharing your experience. I thought it was an important movie, for everyone.