In the upcoming movie Risen, billed as a story about “the manhunt that changed the course of human history,” Roman soldier Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes) is commissioned with the task of finding the body of Jesus. First he crucifies him, then he loses him. With all the brutal focus of a calloused Roman killer, Clavius hunts for the hiding place of the apparently absconded body.
Confession: I often read the last few pages of a book before I technically should. I like knowing how things end and then working my way to the denouement without undue anxiety. Spoilers in movie reviews rarely bother me, and not knowing that a movie ends tragically, when I expected some heroic turn that saves the day, makes me crazy. (I’m talking to you The Perfect Storm.)
I know the ending of Risen because I’ve read the Gospels. It’s a murder mystery with the greatest twist of all. Clavius knows the murderer because he is the murderer, and he finds the body all right, but it’s not at all how he expected things to go.
Risen invites us to do our own search and take our own journey of discovery. Will we find him? Do we want to? Would we rather find him alive or dead? The question digs at the heart of our deepest desires.
It’s this question that has captured my vision, and, indeed, propelled the entire development of the story of the Church.
If Jesus was raised from the dead, the whole gospel story is true. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then the whole story is on the interesting side of things. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, we can still laud his teachings, appreciate his moral guidance, gush over his compassion, and preach his call to justice. We just can’t worship him. Nor do we have grounds for proclaiming his unique status as a Savior. Nor can we teach that his future is ours. Nor can we pray to him, or expect his help.
I love the way the Gospels tell of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances. He’s here and there, and seemingly everywhere: in the upper room with the disciples, on the beach in Galilee, on the road to Emmaus. He meets with the disciples, with unnamed travelers, with James, with Paul, with a crowd of 500. Now, if I were the risen one, I’ll tell you just who I would have appeared to. First, high priests Caiaphas and Anna. Yep, in their faces. Then Pontius Pilate – ta da! Oh, and Herod for sure. Then probably the Sanhedrin. Take that you sniveling back-stabbing cowards. (But, ahem, this only demonstrates how very far I have to go on my own journey.)
The Risen Jesus, however, only gives his shining presence to those who believe. He’s not interested in proving anything or “having the last word.” He’s interested in being with those who love him. It’s not that faith, in its grief over the executed Lord, has the power to “make believe” his undying presence. It’s that faith gives eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand.
If it’s true, the Resurrection is the single most scandalous, offensive, and compelling fact of human history. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
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