One can hardly ignore the existence of Mel Gibson's film of The Passion, and though it is by no means a perfect film, it does serve to highlight something about the suffering and death of Christ that is easily overlooked: it divides the world in two.
Half the people in the cinema sat in rapt concentration; revolted perhaps by the brutality of the violence inflicted on Christ, perhaps harbouring doubts about some of the historical details, but nonetheless fully engaged in a cinematic journey through the Stations of the Cross. But the other half whispered and giggled, chattered on their mobile phones, and clearly found the whole thing rather pointless and uninteresting.
Part of the reason for this reaction to the film was that there is so little material about Christ's earlier life. The few flashbacks we see are very stylised set pieces which, indeed, would mean nothing to a viewer who did not already know the story. Thus the figure at the centre of the film is really quite anonymous; for the viewer almost as much as for the Romans who treat him so brutally, he is simply a nobody. If you don't already know who this man is, you are given no reason to care what happens to him.
Saint Paul tells his readers that the Cross of Christ will be 'folly to the Greeks', and sitting among an audience with so many people left entirely unmoved by such a powerful representation of Jesus's suffering brought home the truth of this prediction. To those who do not believe, the Passion is just a rather unpleasant, tawdry little tale of man's inhumanity to man, nothing that one can't see every day on the news. Only if you come to see the Passion knowing already who this man is, will this story have the effect it is meant to have.
So we who come to the liturgy on Good Friday believing that this is the story of the death of the Son of God, a death that brings us freedom from death, a Passion that liberates us from sin, we Christians can hardly fail to be moved once again by this great mystery at the heart of our faith. For those of us who have seen the film, there will no doubt be images flashing through our minds as we listen to that so-familiar story, images that will make this Good Friday still more moving, the tale of Christ's suffering and death more real, more horrifying, more beautiful. As we stoop to kiss the Cross, we will see in our mind's eye the grotesque figure of the Son of God, flogged half to death, embracing the True Cross on which he was to die.
But Good Friday is not a day for us to wallow in maudlin self-absorption; we are called always to preach Christ crucified. And we must not let the uninterested reactions of unbelievers to this story lead us to despair of communicating the tale of our salvation. We must simply tell the story in the right way, and the story begins and ends not with death but with life.
So let us find in the Passion inspiration to tell the whole story of Christ. Let us tell of the man who is God, of a God who humbled himself to share in our weakness, our struggles and tempations. Let us tell of a preacher who spoke always in words of love and truth, who calls us to share in the love which is the very life of God, who offers to pour into our hearts the Spirit of God.
And let us tell of the Resurrection. Without this, the Passion is indeed a story of brutality, of the way in which fear and hatred seek to erase the humanity of their victims; but above all, it is a story of failure, of futility, of despair. Seen through the lens of the Resurrection, it is the story of triumph: the victory of love over hatred, of hope over despair, of life over death.
But those who come to this story from outside will not read it thus unless they seen in those who tell the story that same love, that same hope, that same life. Let us tell with our lips and with our lives the whole story of Christ, who rose again that we might live.