Recently, I went to see the move “Risen.” While this is not intended to be a movie review, director Kevin Reynold’s telling of the story of a Roman Tribune ordered to find the body of Jesus and to debunk the rumors of a resurrection is compelling and well-worth seeing.
While not necessarily on par with Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” I do not think it was ever intended to be of the same intensity. In fact, as it ostensibly takes up where “Passion” left off, “Risen” makes an intentional choice to present the disciples in a manner more than a little bit counter to our expectations.
In a few weeks, in the days after Easter, we will encounter the Scripture passages of the days after the Resurrection. Recall the words we hear – the disciples were hiding up in the upper room “for fear of the Jews,” the two on the road to Emmaus were “looking downcast.” We understand that sadness, anxiety, fear and despair were the expected reactions to the passion and death of Jesus.
But something unexpected that the movie “Risen” did well was to present the disciples as joy-filled. It was a surprising and almost disturbing twist, when the tone of the disciples is set during the Clavius’ first interrogation of the apostle Bartholomew.
Unlike the expected silence and fear of a modern crime drama interrogation, this apostle was talkative, engaging and almost playful. While not fully understanding what had happened, as he was sitting before the stern representative of an Empire already fearing this small group of faith, Bartholomew was a personification of enthusiasm, zeal and joy. This was a young man of whom every vocation director in the world wants to find many.
The second half of the movie might be criticized for a few too many contrivances. But the story arc is fitting for the twin goals of letting us watch Clavius’ own conversion (sorry for the spoiler) and allowing us to be witnesses — witnesses to the apostles in the upper room, or at the Ascension, or as they decided that they must go separate ways to evangelize the world.
There was certainly still some sense of sadness, anxiety and fear as the apostles were coming to terms with the fact that they were now to be the preachers and evangelists of Christ’s message.
But these things no longer gave way to despair. In fact, they were obviously and emphatically joy-filled. Therein is the greatest lesson of the movie, and a lesson for all people of faith – we are to be people of joy!
We need not get ahead of the purpose of Lent. We are to be sober in reflections and sometimes even somber as we make time for prayer, penance and almsgiving. But should not some part of our reflections be about how we will live our faith, and our lives, differently after Lent?
Do we contemplate the impact of being a people of the Resurrection? Do we plan and prepare to live in a way that shows the world we are joyful in the promise of eternal life?
One of Pope Francis’ traits has been to be an evangelist of joy. At the start of his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) he set this tone. He referenced Pope Paul VI when he wrote of the “joy brought by the Lord,” calling upon all of us: “let us not flee from the Resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!”
Be careful, though, not to get lost in a modern misunderstanding of joy. For a Christian it is not akin to hedonism. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of the very unhappy. Great joy does not gather rose buds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose.”
The church, the world, needs apostles and saints who are joy-filled in their daily endeavors without merely living for the day. The church and the world need disciples of Christ who bring joy to parishes, schools, civic communities and families.
We all need joy on a daily basis, but we need to realize the true source of joy is the transcending promise of Christ and that true joy is itself destined to be eternal.
It is almost provocative to contemplate the joyous celebration that might have occurred after the disciples in the upper room overcame their shock and fear at Jesus’ first appearance.
But was not that encounter the cause of a necessary transition from sadness, anxiety and fear? Is not the coming promise of Easter cause enough for us to plan just how we will be joy-filled heralds of hope?