In an interview on National Public Radio February 27, Andy Trudeau was talking to Sheilah Kast about film scores nominated for an Oscar this year, one of which was composed by John Debney for The Passion of the Christ. That was Trudeau’s choice. We heard selections accompanying various scenes in the film. Trudeau’s discussion of music for the resurrection caught my attention.
Director Mel Gibson had told Debney that he wanted a martial feeling to the resurrection sequence because “that’s where the real battle begins for the souls of mankind.” Trudeau explained over background drum rolls of victory, pomp, and circumstance that the music represents a “moral marshalling of the troops.”
Quite apart from the church’s confession that the real battle for the saving of humankind was won on Calvary, this view of resurrection (even dangerous and heretical) is the opposite of the gospel narratives, where the first encounters with the risen Christ are marked by fear and trembling. Even the joy is modified. When Jesus appears and speaks in the upper room in Luke, the disciples react with ‘disbelieving joy.’ In Matthew with the risen Christ on the mountain (for those who like the most triumphant account in the gospels) it is remembered that some still doubted.
The resurrection, while essential to Christian faith and to the existence of the church, is upsetting and difficult — as much now as it was in the beginning. If we had a videotape of Jesus’ walking out of the tomb, would it inspire faith? I don’t think so. In The Passion of the Christ we see Jesus get up from the stone cold slab, something about which the gospels are appropriately modest. There is no description of the resurrection — only the evidence if it, and the appearances.
Instead of martial music for resurrection we need strains of trembling confidence that welcome (without perfect knowledge) the life that God wills for each of us in Christ’s resurrection. Is this not the experience we all know when someone we love, near death, is healed? Do we not tremble with gratitude and cry tears of joy?
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said to Martha. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25 — 26)
The wonder of the resurrection stories that the Spirit insisted the church save in the Scriptures is that they reveal the disciples’ difficulty in, even resistance to, coming to terms with the risen Christ. The only martial (a word derived from Mars, the god of war) references in the gospels are the soldiers who guard the tomb and who, according to Matthew, even though they see the risen Christ, are bribed into silence to disprove it!
Further, outside the Revelation of John, the only martial reference I recall is a reference to the cross in Colossians 2:15. On the cross Christ has disarmed the principalities and powers and has led them in procession, triumphing over them as does a conquering hero after a victorious battle.
Our real battle begins not in marshalling those who are ‘with us’ to overpower or run out of the church those who disagree with us (see Rigby and Stroup in this issue). Instead, the real battle begins with us, in our hearts, and in what we confess as congregations and denominations in the holy, catholic, apostolic church. The real challenge before us is how we teach, instruct, and witness to those among us who think the resurrection can be taken or left as a matter of personal choice. It cannot.
When we join the body of Christ by baptism and profession, we agree — not to litmus tests — but to trust that the Living God who created human life will save us for eternity, which begins within us, even now, in the present time. Our true lives are hid with Christ in God.
There is indeed a victory. Christ is risen! Sometimes, that causes me to tremble … tremble … tremble.