By Sandra Ostapowich
“I couldn’t believe how gory it was.”
That’s what my boss told me after going to see The Passion of the Christ when it first came out in the theater. “I knew the story of Jesus and what was going to happen, but I had never imagined it could be that violent.”
And this from a snarky atheist.
I used to be able to watch violent movies, shoot-em-ups and creepy murder mysteries without batting an eye. I’d go through Holy Week and piously imagine the betrayal, trumped-up charges, beatings, flogging, public humiliation and crucifixion and how horrible it must’ve been. But, in my mind, it was sanitized. I imagined Holy Week as the sterile, “Jesus of Nazareth,” or “The Greatest Story Ever Told” kind of event, in which the violence and the pain were as obviously fake as the Jesus who seemed more like a comic hero with the superpower of bland, mashed-potatoey niceness.
Not anymore. And certainly not then. At that point in my life, I was separated from my husband and waitressing 6 days a week to pay the rent and buy diapers for my young toddler. I was also spending most of my days in fear and looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being followed and always preparing an escape plan in case I had been. Now that I had experienced violence, violence was something I had no stomach for anymore. Not in the movies. Not even in Holy Week.
We’ve all been betrayed at some point. We’ve been hurt or had lies told about us. Maybe we’ve been beaten up, or at least had a serious threat of bodily injury. Humiliation? Anyone who has survived middle school knows humiliation to some degree or another. If not, dig out the old yearbooks and show them to your friends and kids!
Some of us have experienced all of these at the hands of someone we trusted and who was supposed to love us. To have that trust betrayed and to experience fear and violence at the hands of someone we trusted, someone with whom we let down our guard, hurts far more deeply than if it had been someone we barely knew. We even blame ourselves for trusting in the first place.
Holy Week — with all its talk of betrayal, suffering, pain, and guilt — can sometimes be too much. Too personal. It’s too real. It’s not just the same pious story we’ve heard year in and year out with the fake wincing and sighs of a pasty-faced movie Jesus. It can trigger our own memories and pain, feeling like it’s us taking the blows to the gut, being torn open, laughed at, humiliated.
In a way, it is. Because Jesus didn’t just suffer random violence. He wasn’t just being punished because He got out of line and had to be reminded who was really boss in the relationship. He wasn’t simply belittled out of someone’s twisted sense of self-importance or blind rage.
His suffering was for us, to save us from an eternity of suffering without any hope whatsoever of it ending. Jesus took the guilt of our sins upon Himself, the punishment we were due, the wrath of God that we deserve…to save us. You and I had been hell-bent on self-destruction, blind to our own sinfulness, stuck in a spiraling vortex of being hurt and hurting others, and He demonstrated His love for us by sacrificing Himself to snatch us out of that.
If you’re one of those people for whom Holy Week just hits too close to home, don’t run from the Cross. Run TO it. We can’t go back 2000 years to a hill outside of Jerusalem, but we can run to where the gifts of Christ’s suffering are delivered to us.
Run to the Font. Remember your baptism and the promise God made there in water and the Word to save you, adopting you as His own dear child. There, He has forgiven all your sins, marking you as one of the redeemed, giving you all that Christ achieved for you that first Holy Week.
Run to the Supper. Taste and see how good the Lord is for you. Eat the Body that was beaten and crucified for you. Drink the blood that was shed for the forgiveness of all your sins. And by it, be strengthened for the daily assaults of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh who all tell you to run anywhere but to the Cross.
Run to the Word. Bask in the liturgy, which confesses God’s own Words back to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Hear your pastor deliver the Good News into your ears once again, this Holy Week, declaring what your Jesus has done for you: achieving your salvation, forgiving all your sins, loving you…to death.
Yes, the Passion of our Lord was gory. Even more brutal and horrific than any movie could portray. But the world misses the important fact that we know, by faith: He did it for us. By His wounds, we have been healed. By His suffering, we have been saved.
So when Satan uses even this most Holy Week to dig at the scars of our own suffering, the violence that we have experienced, defy him. Lock your eyes boldly on the Lord, don’t look away. Listen to the stories once again. Because your baptism reminds you that it’s not meaningless violence. That’s your salvation from this brutal, sinful world being achieved.