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The Pain of the Cross

The Pain of the Cross

    This Ash Wednesday Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of The Christ," will open in theatres around the country.  I suppose I shall see it sooner or later.  Probably later. 

    I have suffered through enough violent Oscar-nominated movies in the past month to last a year.  I've turned my head away from the screen as severed heads were catapulted over the castle walls in "Lord of the Rings."  I shut my eyes during "Mystic River" as Sean Penn stabbed his childhood friend in an instance of mistaken blame.  I almost walked out when it became apparent the denouement of "Cold Mountain" would be a shootout illustrating once again the plotline cliche that men die and the women endure.  No way you can coax me to see "Monster," which may be a wonderful exercise in dramatic acting for Charlize Theron, but the reviews read like the film is one ghastly murder after another.

    "The Passion" is rated R, not because of Mary Magdalene, because of the bloody violence of the crucifixion.  Like I said, I've seen enough killing this season.

    Long ago, in yet another movie, "Winter Light," one of Ingmar Bergmann's earlier films, about a pastor whose faith in love leaves him when his wife dies, a less than sympathetic church custodian, handicapped from birth, offers an observation that has stuck with me.  The custodian said that he had thought long about the suffering of Jesus on the cross; and it occurred to him that the three hours of pain endured were hardly of the same magnitude as the pain he, the custodian, had suffered all of his life every day. 

    Sounds blasphemous, doesn't it?  But I have had reason again and again in my pastoral ministry to see some wisdom in the custodian's observation.  For there have been many people, many good people, people whom I have loved and sought to comfort, who have been held in the grip of a painful and wasting disease for which the most potent painkillers were ineffective.  As one soul confided, "It's not just the pain; it's knowing that even with momentary relief the pain will return, that there's no end to it."

    Maybe that consideration is the reason I have been loathe on Good Friday, during one of those services of the Seven Last Words, and my word is "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" or "I thirst," that I have touched only briefly on the physical pain Jesus suffers.  Oh, yes, it was real, it was hard, it was horrible; it was, as the modern expert called to witness recently on a CNN program on the crucifixion reported, gruesome and ghastly.  But dwelling on the body and the blood misses the deeper sorrows suffered on those two crossed beams of wood.

    Like being abandoned.  By friends.  By the Father in heaven.  My mother on her deathbed in Stamford Hospital feared death not one whit.  She feared most of all being alone.  We sing, "Jesus knows the trouble we see."  He stares into the abyss with us, maybe for us... for my mother surely.  The Psalmist says it just right for God, but it could be said of Jesus too, that should we take the wings of the morning and flee to uttermost parts of the sea, should we descend even to the shadowy bottom of hell, God is there, way ahead of us.  That's the passion and compassion of Jesus Christ. 

    The worst pains of this mortal life are not inflicted by nails or thorns.  They are the hurts plunged deep into the soul by other people.  Their willful ignorance.  Their deceit and betrayal, often in the name of doing what's best for us.  Pain isn't just physical.  It's personal. 

    Maybe Mel Gibson will catch that aspect of the crucifixion.  But, like I said, I won't know (unless you tell me) until my present saturation with film violence dissipates. 

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