Sunday, March 27, 2016

At the Movies

Just ask Fr. Scott about the time a few weeks ago when I said, "Let's see a movie!" and then drove us to the wrong theater at the wrong time (which goes to show how often I look at a movie schedule).  Or ask Fr. Stitt about the time he discovered I'd never seen Casablanca, and then forced invited me to watch it (which resulted in a good nap on the couch)...

   Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord   

Fr Scott and Fr. Stitt can both attest
that I’m one of the least qualified people around
to play movie critic.
It’s not that I don’t like movies;
it’s just that I don’t see very many of them.
(Living in a town without a theater
hasn’t exactly helped the cause.)

But there are two films
that I actually did see in recent months,
which—when considered side-by-side—
I believe have something significant to say to us at Easter.

The first movie is The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio
(a role which won him his first Academy Award).
It’s based on the true story of Hugh Glass,
a 19th century explorer and fur trader on the American frontier
who is violently mauled by a grizzly bear
and then left for dead by his hunting party—
after having seen one of the men kill his only son. 
(As you might have already guessed:
this isn’t exactly a “feel good” movie!) 
And as if Glass’s mutilated body, intense grief,
and experience of betrayal weren’t enough,
the film then depicts his fight to survive on his own
during a vicious winter in the northern wilds.
When he reemerges at the fort from which he’d originally set out,
it becomes clear that Glass was driven
by more than the sheer will to live;
his harrowing quest was one set on getting revenge.
While The Revanant is a tale of much brutality—
certainly not for the faint of heart!—
it’s a compelling story, quite beautifully filmed.

The second movie is the Biblical drama Risen.
It tells the tale of Clavius,
a Roman tribune whose soldiers are responsible
for overseeing the execution of Jesus on a cross.
It’s when Jesus’ tomb is found empty a few days later
that the story really takes off.
Clavius is charged by Pontius Pilate with the investigation—
including locating the missing body quickly—
in order to quell the rumors of resurrection
and an imminent uprising in Jerusalem.
Examining the evidence,
and interviewing Mary Magdalene and the Apostles,
only make the whole affair more mysterious.
Then Clavius finally finds Jesus—
not a dead body, but a man very much alive.
It’s not exactly great cinema
(I don’t expect anybody to get an Oscar for this one),
but as far as “Jesus movies” go,
Risen does a rather good job
of retelling the heart of the Gospel in convincing fashion.

Both movies are based on historical accounts—
by-and-large depicting events that actually took place.
Both tell the tales of men who came back from the dead—
with the scars as evidence to back up their claims.
But one—at the time of the original events—
was a sensation reported in all the papers;
the other was an account which the authorities attempted to suppress.

What other differences do we find between Hugh Glass and Jesus?

First, there’s a notable difference
in what happens among the people they encounter
when they return to the land of the living.
There’s quite a stir when Glass walks up to the gate of Fort Kiowa—
this man everyone had presumed was long dead.
His fellow troops and trappers are startled and curious.
How can this be?
But before long, it’s back to business as usual.
The life they’re all leading is harsh—and that life must go on.
Yet for those who see Jesus
three days and more after his crucifixion,
life is never the same again.
They go from asking, How can this be?
to asking, How must I be?
Apostles who had cowered fearful in hiding
are suddenly now willing to suffer and die.
Peter—who had only days before
quietly denied even knowing Jesus—
now publically proclaims his Lordship to anyone who’ll listen.
And as for the tribune Clavius—
there can be no more business as usual.
Even for this man hardened by so much violence,
meeting the risen Jesus changes absolutely everything.

The clear difference in the way people respond to these two men
stems from the considerable difference
between the realities they’ve undergone.
Although Hugh Glass’s grave was dug
and dirt was thrown over the top of him,
he never actually died.
Coming back from the brink of death in the face of impossible odds 
took amazing courage and strength.
But Glass’s story is of the triumph of one man’s will to live:
a man “saving” himself by means heroic, but perfectly natural.
He is a revenant—French for “one who has come back”—
but his is only a resuscitation;
he has recuperated; he’s been revived.
The story of the first Easter, however,
is not a tale of human triumph.
What happened to Jesus is a matter of resurrection—
a dead man cannot save himself, after all;
he must be raised by another.
2000 years later,
with all our amazing advances in medicine and technology,
we still can’t bring back someone
who has rightly been laid in the tomb.
This victory over death could only be divine.
Even with rather persuasive evidence—
it’d sure be strange to steal a body
but leave the burial cloths behind, wouldn’t it?—
what we have here is a reality beyond natural explanation,
one which demands faith.

The greatest difference, however,
between Glass’s recovery and Jesus’ resurrection
is seen in how these two men treat the ones
who wanted to see them dead.
Glass is bent on vengeance—
seeking strict justice for the death of his son,
even more than for the attempt on his own life.
But Jesus—he’s moved by nothing but tender mercy.
Clavius—that professional killer—
is received by the risen Jesus as if a long-treasured friend.

Two movies—
both based (with some embellishments) on real life events.
But we’re here in this church today
because the story one of them attempts to retell
continues to have real life effects today.
You and I are faced this Easter with an empty tomb
that raises some serious, potentially uncomfortable questions—
not only, How did it get that way?
but, What does it mean?  
What does it tell me about this Jesus? 
What does it tell me about myself?
Shouldn’t this change may life—and change it completely?
And if it hasn’t yet, What am I waiting for?

Even without seeing them,
everyone pretty much knows how both these movies end.
But how your story will end—that remains up to you!

As we renew our baptismal promises this Easter,
know that you’ve been so much more than revived;
by a life hidden with Christ in God, you’ve risen!
Live that new life!

No comments: