Thursday, March 25, 2004

Some Thoughts after viewing The Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ, has caused quite a stir here in early 2004. The movie depicts in graphic detail, the twelve hours leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus.

The violence would have been overwhelming had we not been prepared for it by pre-release publicity. Even so, it was difficult to watch. I know Mel Gibson wanted to impress on us the magnitude of the suffering Jesus endured for us, but I thought the scourging prior to the crucifixion was somewhat extreme. I almost felt like the crucifixion itself paled in comparison to the time and intensity of the physical pain He went through prior to that moment. I don't mean that as a criticism of the movie. It is simply recognition of a strange feeling of relief that came over me when the crucifixion came, knowing that His suffering would soon end.

And then comes the realization that we continue to inflict this pain upon Him with our sins. It is this thought that gives me pause. Most Christians agree that Christ died for our sins, and this would include not only the original sin of our first parents, but all of the sins of humanity, past, present and future. How this occurs is a matter for theologians, but to the average person like me, the whole idea can be confounding. The process of salvation would seem to be an important thing to understand, because this is where many Christian denominations veer off in different directions.

Some believe that because Jesus died for ALL our sins, salvation is assured once we accept Jesus as our "personal Lord and Savior." The Bible does mention salvation as a past event, and therefore, some think they are already saved. Of those who think their salvation is already assured, some believe it cannot be lost. We often refer to them as the OSAS (once saved, always saved) crowd. They believe that Christ has atoned for all sins, past present, and future. So, nothing they do from now on can keep them from heaven.

Let us think about this. Did Christ's death on the Cross include payment in advance for our future sins? Is the crucifixion a past payment for future transgressions? Some would probably answer 'yes'. Does it follow then, that any sin we commit in the future, no matter how grievous, cannot take away our salvation? The OSAS people might say that once we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, we will no longer yield to the temptation of serious sin, and those that do were never really saved in the first place.

Okay, but let us think about this some more. Much of the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's movie about the Passion revolved around charges that it was anti-Semitic in that it blamed the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus. Christians of all denominations and Mel Gibson, himself a devout Catholic, countered that we all crucified Jesus by our sins.

Mel did not appear in this movie except in the scene of the crucifixion where it is his arm swinging the hammer, pounding the nails through the hands of Jesus into the Cross. This was his way of assuming personal responsibility for Christ's death. Most Christians would probably agree that every time we sin, we are swinging that hammer.

So, how does this happen exactly? If we continue to hurt Jesus with our sins, was atonement for our sins a payment in advance, or is it a payment that is ongoing and ever present? Christ said it is finished, but how can this be when we continue to sin? How is the debt paid when we continue to cause damage?

As human beings on this earth, we think in physical dimensions learned by observing our surroundings. God, being spirit, is not limited as we are by the same four dimensions, one being time. People smarter than I am, say there is no such thing as time in the spirit world. In other words, time is strictly a property of the physical world. This helps to explain why God could take billions of years to form the universe, as some believe. A billion years to us might be nothing to Him.

Even though the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary took place 2000 years ago in a physical sense, is it not possible it could be ongoing and ever present in a spiritual sense? Could that explain how Christ continues to save us from our sins, past present and future? And, isn't this continuation of the Sacrifice on Calvary exactly what we witness every day in the Mass? The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10: 16)

In the Mass, the physical world we know on earth meets and intermingles with the supernatural world of the Risen Christ where time is no longer of the essence. Hence, the laws of physics do not always apply. Bread and wine can cease to be bread and wine though the accidents remain. Flesh and Blood becomes true food and true drink. What may seem like a past event continues in the present. It is not another sacrifice, but the same sacrifice made present. In the Mass, we enter our own little twilight zone, not an place to be feared, but rather a source of nourishment and life. It is a spiritual reality entering a physical reality, a sight to be gazed upon with awe and majesty.