It might seem a bit out of place to begin the new year and new semester with a film that, on the surface, conveys the exact opposite feelings as those of the now-concluding Christmas season, yet there is a good pedagogical and religious reason for our seniors to view the film Risen as they begin their final theology course as Saint Ignatius students.
Most films that depict the events of the Paschal Mystery, the title of our course, present a believer’s view of the history-changing events of Holy Week. Risen takes a different approach, showing things through the eyes of a Roman Tribune named Clavius who – because the Sanhedrin demanded it and the governor Pontius Pilate ordered it – is given the task of making sure that the dead body of a not-so-random Galilean prisoner, Yeshua by name, is not stolen.
It appears that Yeshua’s followers believed that he would rise from the dead after his crucifixion and subsequent burial in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin who also happens to be one of Yeshua’s disciples. When the High Priest Caiaphas comes to Pilate to demand his help in keeping the tomb secure, both Pilate and Clavius suggest that the easy solution to this problem is to burn the body that lies in the Arimathean’s family tomb. The High Priest responds that Jewish law forbids cremation, and so the tomb is secured with a stone and ropes and sealed with wax. In addition, guards are stationed at the site to keep watch until the predicted time of the resurrection has passed.
Well, one doesn’t need to be a Christian to know what happens next. Morning comes on the third day, and the body is not to be found. Caiaphas threatens Pilate with an uprising due to this alleged resurrection, and, since the Emperor Tiberius was on his way to Jerusalem, the pragmatic governor of Judea puts Clavius in charge of a search for the body.
The film then shows Clavius interviewing a number of people as he tries his best to discover who has stolen the body in the hope of finding where the remains of the Galilean have been hidden. Viewers can’t but feel some sympathy for Clavius, a man with no animus against the Christians, but also a man who has a job to do.
For the seniors who are watching, this is meant to be a metaphor for their lives and the times in which they live. Clavius is in many ways the embodiment of post-modern man, and his path is one that everyone – either explicitly or implicitly – must walk. Clavius, like his post-modern counterparts, assumes that this Galilean never rose from the dead. Ironically, Clavius’s goal – finding the body – could never be reached today, yet that does not deter his present-day incarnations from acting as if they did.
Clavius hopes that finding the body will be his ticket out of Judea and the beginning of his ascent up the political ladder, a climb that he hopes will lead to happiness. As he told Pilate early on in the film, his goal is an appointment in Rome and then, “wealth, a good family, someday a place in the country…an end to travail, a day without death.” Thus, for Clavius, happiness is tied directly to disproving the myth of the resurrection.
The culture into which we send our seniors has a similar view of happiness: put aside the fairy story of Yeshua, and move on to a more progressive and enlightened vision of the good life. What could be better than the almost limitless, and guiltless, freedom that comes from dispensing with the outmoded moral law oppressively imposed by the followers of the Galilean? This is the siren call of the cultural elites that threatens to crash the lives of our seniors and other vulnerable souls.
Yet, this is not the outlook of Clavius once he completes his task. His search for Yeshua takes him in an entirely different direction, and one that he could never have imagined. And that is the point of showing this film at this time. Our seniors are on the cusp of a whole new educational context, and for almost all of them this is the end of their formal religious education. Their new situations will have much in common with the Roman world of Clavius, and our hope is that they will continue, like Clavius, in their search for this Galilean named Yeshua; a search that will take them along the only path that leads to real and lasting happiness.
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