Not too long ago I found myself having a pleasurable but slightly surreal phone conversation with one of the four legendary Oak Ridge Boys, Duane Allen. Duane, a close friend of Johnny Cash, was recommended to me as the man who might accompany an ailing Johnny to a screening of Mel Gibson’s film, "The Passion of the Christ" (Feb. 25 release). A representative from Icon Films, Mel’s production company, had chosen my home, The Art House, as a place to hold the first Nashville screening. Icon provided me with a guest list; and I invited a variety of Christians, Johnny included.

“I got a good feeling about you, Charlie,” said Duane in his deep, sturdy drawl, “And I suspect Johnny will have a good feeling, too.” I never did find out, though I suspect Johnny feels pretty good about most things right about now. You see, a better opportunity came along; and he took it. Johnny missed a film dramatizing Christ’s trial, scourging, crucifixion and resurrection to be with Jesus Christ in person. Of us invitees still earthbound ... well, we watched the movie.

For two hours, a roomful of us viewed the most artful and shocking dramatization of Jesus’ last hours ever captured in film history. Then there was silence – that is, all but the sound of sniffling and Mel’s crunching on the almonds my wife had set out. What we had seen together was not entertainment. It was art depicting the single most important set of events in post-creation history – God, the Artist, coming to the rescue of His creativity – His creation. 

Years ago novelist Dorothy Sayers was commissioned by the BBC to write a series of radio plays based on the life of Messiah Jesus. Perhaps knowing her reputation, there was some concern as to how she would depict the shocking details of the crucifixion. Sayers replied in a letter to the director of the BBC:

“It is an ugly, tear-stained, sweat-stained, blood-stained story, and the thing was done by callous, conceited, and cruel people. Shocked? We'd – well ought to be shocked. If nobody is going to be shocked, we might as well not tell them about it.”

Knowingly or not, Gibson has taken this warning to heart. His movie is loaded with “shock and awe” after the fashion of his other films, "Braveheart" and "The Patriot." This is a hard film to watch – as it should be. Finally, someone has created a film that does not trivialize what Messiah Jesus did for the people of Earth so that we’d have a new opportunity to be truly human. As Revelation 7:10 says, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Mel’s film holds true to this important fact. It’s all about God’s saving ways through the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

As I watched the film, I thought of my very comfortable life and realized I was experiencing the suffering of Christ in a way I’d never known before. This was good for me. The film reminded me to follow Jesus wherever He leads, to be interested in the same things He is interested in – all of His creativity and the work of restoring it to rightness. It reminded me that followers of Jesus belong to a new world coming, one with an entirely different economy. Nevertheless, we know what to do while we’re here:  passionate storytelling and storied living, becoming (in weakness) the art of God in all of life. We trust Jesus to heal our wounds, give us unceasing unity of purpose and lead us to the finish line. And when we cross that line into the fullness of victory, we will fall on our knees, point to Jesus and shout: “You did it! You did it! You did it! When we were lost and without hope – with no faith that we could keep on – You did it!”