Ministers praise 'The Passion'

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Ministers were telling the story of the last 12 hours of Christ's life long before Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" created a buzz. But the edginess and realism of the movie will grab people's attention, particularly as they prepare for Lent and Easter, say area pastors who previewed the movie.

"The story is not being changed," said the Rev. Mike Parry, pastor of Fruitland Community Church.

Some churches have reserved showings of "The Passion," and some pastors are planning special sermons based on the movie.

Parry saw an early version of the film in Chicago. "This is showing as it really was," Parry said. "There wasn't a movie camera 2,000 years ago, and this movie more than any other Jesus movie that I've seen -- and I've seen a bunch of them -- seems to put you right there so you experience history unfolding right before your eyes."

The film opens Wednesday at the Town Plaza Cinema and will run for at least two weeks. Though several Cape Girar-deau churches have rented the theater for some of the showings, tickets are still available.

Many pastors hope that "The Passion" will change the way Christians think about Easter and elicit questions from nonbelievers.

"It touches you on a deeper level than a lot of other movies that present a 'plastic Jesus' that the world just yawns at," Parry said. "This has an edginess and a dose of reality."

Despite the film's R rating, the Rev. Derek Staples of Lynwood Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau is so convinced of the film's importance that his congregation has purchased at least 600 tickets to see the movie. Members are encouraged to pay for their own ticket and then will receive one for a guest.

"We just asked, 'Do you know anybody who ought to see this film?" Staples said.

It's not just important for nonbelievers to see this movie but for Christians also, he said. "I think as believers we do not have any idea. We can be Christians for so long that we see the cross as something glamorous. We have no idea what it really means."

"The Passion" depicts the gruesome and horrible death crucifixion truly was, Parry said. Unlike other movies that have downplayed the violence, Gibson's doesn't.

Most area pastors aren't encouraging children under age 12 to see the film because of its graphic violence and R rating. The film also has subtitles. The dialogue is in Latin and Aramaic.

'More vivid' Easter

Parry thinks the film will have an impact on anyone who sees it.

"This is a film that you have an opinion about when it's all over," he said. For Christians, it's likely to change the way they think about the Lord's Supper or Communion and how they observe Easter.

"It's more meaningful to remind us of the broken body and shed blood," Parry said. "Celebrating Easter will be more vivid."

Staples intends to preach a sermon series about "The Passion," answering questions about who really crucified Jesus, why he died and whether he is alive. The series will end with a sermon titled "The Return of the King" on Easter Sunday.

The Rev. Clayton Smith of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau will preach a sermon about "The Passion" at 7 p.m. on Ash Wednesday. He and several other pastors will view the film at a showing Wednesday morning.

At least one class at Southeast Missouri State University, Introduction to Theology, will view the film and then write theological critiques. The class chose to use the film for the assignment instead of making individual selections, said the Rev. J. Friedel, who teaches the course.

Friedel also is director of the Catholic Campus Ministries and Newman Center at Southeast. Most of the students there intend to see the film with their circle of friends, he said. Some "will watch and for the first time click into the fact of what Jesus went through to suffer," Friedel said.

'An expression of faith'

The suffering and torture scenes in the film have created a controversy among Jewish and Christian leaders. Many Jews believe Gibson's film portrays them in a negative light and attempts to blame Jews for Christ's death. Gibson has said that the film isn't about laying blame but portraying the events as they are told in Scripture.

It's easy to misinterpret works of art, Friedel said. "It's an expression of faith."

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

WHO'S WATCHING

These churches will host viewings of "The Passion of the Christ" in the coming weeks. The film is being shown at Town Plaza Cinema in Cape Girardeau.

  • 7 and 8 p.m. Friday, Lynwood Baptist Church.

    4 p.m. Saturday, Centenary United Methodist Church. Pizza and a movie review will be held at the church's Family Life Center afterwards.

    5 and 7 p.m. Sunday, First Baptist Church, Jackson.

    7 p.m. March 4, First Baptist Church, Jackson.

    7 p.m. March 5, Fruitland Community Church with discussion to follow at Grace Cafe.

    8 p.m. March 5, La Croix United Methodist

    2, 5 and 7 p.m. March 6, First Baptist Church, Jackson.

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