HERE we are approaching Holy Week, and I’m considering making another pilgrimage back to the theatre to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ again.
I really mean it. For me this movie was a religious experience though I must admit that it did leave me with some grave concerns The potential for the movie to incite anti-Semitism does worry me a little but I trust that this won’t happen.
My chief concern though arises from the fact that this movie seems to me to be just a downright embarrassment for the church for it’s a movie that very accurately portrays the historical Jesus — suffering, bleeding, laying down his life for others. This is hardly an image of our Modern church!
Am I being too harsh? Take a look at your average Protestant church in Sydney today. You’re likely to find a brightly dressed Pastor leading a trim and successful congregation of upwardly mobile families. The image is one of cleanliness and sophistication- hardly consistent with the bleeding, tattered and wretched figure in Gibson’s movie.
This movie highlights a credibility gap, similar to the one that fast food giants struggle with as they try to reconcile the bounteous burgers displayed in advertisements with the meals that emerge from behind the counter! The Jesus portrayed in the passion is open and honest, greathearted and human, strong and courageous. I don’t think we, the church, have ever been shown up quite so badly!
I don’t pretend to understand exactly how it happened that those original rag-tailed followers of Jesus ever evolved into what we experience today as church but I can see that we sanitised the story of the Passion somewhere in the process, presumably to make it more acceptable as bedtime reading for our children. The church was once more of a working class phenomenon made up of struggling and sorrowful people who understood Jesus and his path of sorrows better than do we well-educated and well-heeled representatives of the church today.
It is my belief that if we, the church, want to re-establish contact with those struggling and sorrowful people from the underside of our community, we first need to reconnect with our crucified Messiah and His via dolorosa. Perhaps Gibson’s movie can help us do that.
It is an odd thing to confess that this Easter a movie might be enunciating the story of Jesus more clearly than His church. How typical that he should choose to bypass our grand ecclesiastical institutions to cornnunicate his message to the world through the godless celluloid of Hollywood. And people say that God has no sense of humour!