Sunday, October 28, 2007

Opening Gateway, Part Three

Tonight, Jesus’ resurrection was a rainout at Gateway UMC …

Simeon had the idea to show the film, “The Passion of the Christ,” on Saturday night before the Sunday morning opening worship. I must confess that I wasn’t real thrilled about this choice. For one, I question whether the gruesome film is appropriate to be seen by small children, who certainly would be in the audience. Secondly, I also question the atonement theology that the film perpetuates.

But I decided to defer to Simeon’s wisdom on this matter. He wanted to show the film, and so we did. We set it up on the screen outdoors, and instantly gathered a crowd. There were at least forty people sitting in the arranged rows of chairs, while again, a number of people watched from the roadside.

We watched one hour and forty minutes of blood, spittle, and flogging. Just as the nails were being pounded into Jesus’ hands, however, it started to rain. I had to dash to the projector and laptop to get them under cover as soon as possible, unplugging cables as I went.

Fortunately, there was no damage of any sort, but within seconds, our crowd had vanished, returning home with fresh images of a dying, bloodied Jesus in their head.

One of my criticisms of the film has always been that it glorifies Jesus’ sufferings to a ridiculous extreme, and thus, distorts the meaning of the atonement. Furthermore, the resurrection takes up only a miniscule amount of screen time; the film is 98% death and only 2% resurrection. Yet a true and faithful understanding of Jesus’ atonement is that it comes as a result of his faithful life, death AND resurrection. You cannot separate any one of those three elements.

And last night, my fears came true – we presented a Jesus without resurrection! That just isn’t a true gospel story.

Other thoughts about the film:
… “The Passion of the Christ” is a stunning visual account of Jesus’ story, more striking than “The Jesus Film,” for sure. It also has less dialogue. I think this makes it easier for people on the street to follow the story. The action is very simple and clear; when Pilate washes his hands of Jesus’ guilt, for example, we get a close-up of the bowl, of his hands, of the water dripping. Then we get a flashback to Jesus’ washing hands at the Last Supper. It’s an easier film to follow, with a clearer dramatic arc, than “The Jesus Film.”

… My favorite moment in the film was the release of Barabbas. The character in the film is an unsavory, ugly man who grins and laughs maniacally when he finds out he will be released. The crowd laughed heartily at this!

… When it’s not raining, showing films in the front yard of Gateway could be a tremendously fruitful evangelistic event. I think we’re going to have to find a way to do this on a regular basis!