Even though the DVD industry now is a very large one, it is curious that it has never made the cinema redundant. Cinemas are as popular as ever. Rather than stay at home and watch a film, there is still something that entices us to go out and see it in a cinema. Perhaps it is because the visual and sound effect on the big screen makes for a different experience than our home theatre. However, the director, George Miller, explains that one of the reasons why cinemas are frequented is because we have forgotten the need of people to gather and listen to a story. Cinemas, he says, are the covert cathedrals of today, and filmmakers the high priests of our society because they hold the story and pass the story on- the story of the tragic human quest for love, for power, for redemption.
People do not tire in the hearing of those stories. We need to hear them. They remind us who we are and of life’s deeper meanings. Underneath our analytical tendency, we remain people who think in stories. John and Mary Harrell go so far to say, “storytelling is so natural to human beings it suggests a definition: we are the creatures who think in stories.” And further, our own central Christian truths are given us precisely in story. We are not given a philosophy. We are given a story. We are given a story to remember. We are drawn into the story and the story leads us along step by step into its own rhythms, logic and conclusion. It is a story of innocence and violence; a story of intimacy and alienation; a story of despair and hope; a story of passion and possibility. A story of love and betrayal.
At the heart of the story is the theme of ‘betrayal.’ Judas betrays Jesus, Judas betrays his brother apostles, Peter betrays Jesus by disowning him, the apostles themselves betray him by their cowardice. This element of betrayal gives the drama its particularly passionate energy. Passion and betrayal almost go hand in hand. The greater the passion the greater the risk. And the risk, of course, is that the one on which a passionate love is focussed will betray that investment. That is why we seek not to be too passionate. We know human nature too well. We do not trust that the other will match our passion and then we will be left looking, at the least, very foolish. The greater the passion, the greater the possibility of betrayal. The more passion, the more keenly felt is betrayal. If the passion were not great, then neither would be the betrayal. So, in a certain sense the betrayal reveals the intensity of the passion.
I wonder if betrayal is almost the outcome of passion. I recall Queen Elizabeth saying at the time of the death of Princess Diana, “grief is the price of love.” Borrowing from this, I wonder if a love that is truly passionate contains within itself always the seeds of betrayal? For a passionate love is a love that risks all; it does not calculate. It abandons proportion and measurement. In a certain way it loses its mind, so focussed does it become on the subject that it loves.
Jesus is the passionate lover. He loves passionately. And in him God is shown as the Passionate One, the One who has so emptied himself to give himself over to us, to be one with us wherever and however we are – yes, where and how we are vulnerable and fragile, in our sin and in our death. And he pays the price of such passion, the experience of abandonment and isolation, and thereby perhaps takes on himself our greatest fear. The prayer, “My God my God why have you abandoned me?” echoes yes even in our own hearts in so many of the circumstances with which we struggle. Perhaps many of us have prayed this over the last twelve months of the pandemic.
God’s passion, our betrayal. Our own betrayal and denial are exposed before God’s passionate love. They are exposed in our words and in our gestures: our words which do not speak of love, our gestures which are based on greed or fear or anger. And still we are loved passionately. For if our betrayal of the invitation and possibility of love is great, then the love against which it is set is so much greater. And so, our betrayal, exposed as it becomes, is never the last word. In the Passion of Jesus, the last word is always the word that that comes first, “I will never take back my love for you.” These words we hunger to hear, we never tire of hearing. These are the words we need to hear as we come to the other side of a pandemic. They are why we gather to hear again a story so familiar, but always so new.
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