“Lent Through the Ages: Jesus of Montreal”

March 11, 2018


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Mar. 11, 2018

“Lent Through the Ages – Jesus of Montreal”
Mark 16:6-8

About a month ago, I met Jan Luth, the President of Exploration Place. Jan is a highly educated individual, has great energy and passion, and was fun to talk with. It didn’t take long for us to realize we had several mutual friends.

“Did you know Sharon Miles,” I asked her. Sharon was a friend of mine for a number of years. She worked at the WSU Foundation and later at Exploration Place.

“I did!” replied Jan. “She was still Director of Development for Exploration Place when she found out she had cancer. I worked with her until she had to take medical leave.”

“I loved Sharon. We belong to a group of women who get together once a month to have wine and raise funds for WSU students. In her last days, we met at the hospice unit with wine and raised a glass to her around her bed.”

“I both enjoyed and was frustrated by Sharon,” Jan said. “As a fundraiser, it was her way or the highway!”

We reminisced about Sharon for a few minutes and told each other stories about her. At the end of our time together, I told Jan (who is Jewish) that I believed resurrection comes in many forms and that sharing our memories of Sharon brought her back into our lives in a very poignant and meaningful way. “Thank you for bringing her to life again,” I said. “It was as if Sharon was sitting here today with us.”

Each Wednesday during Lent, we’ve been showing a movie about Jesus, his life and ministry; his death and resurrection. If you haven’t come to one of the showings yet, you are missing some meaningful conversations and time with each other. 5:15 in the movie theater in the basement. The movie we are discussing today is Jesus of Montreal.

Jesus of Montreal won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. The drama takes place in modern day Montreal where a priest with an interest in theatre, hires Daniel, a talented and intelligent actor, to direct the annual Passion play staged on the grounds of a hillside shrine overlooking the city.

Using data from the latest archaeological finds and new translations of the Talmud, he reworks the traditional Stations of the Cross. Daniel casts himself as Jesus and finds four other actors to join him —
• a single mother who was in the previous production
• a model who has never done any serious acting but uses her beautiful body to get sexy advertizing roles
• a witty fellow who has a job dubbing voices for a porno film
• and an idiosyncratic actor who yearns to perform Hamlet’s soliloquy
Each of the actors has a direct correlation to one or more of Jesus’ original disciples.

Daniel’s revised Passion play is a hit with the critics and the public, but the priest is worried about the radical portrayal of Jesus and he announces that he will have to consult his superiors about continuing the play.

The priest orders the cast to return to the traditional Passion play script. They defy him for one last performance of their version. The police arrive and shut down the drama, despite protests from the audience. A security guard tries to reassure the audience that they already know the end of the story and says, “Look, he dies on the cross and is resurrected. No big deal!”

Because of all the chaos during the play, there is an accident and the cross with Daniel on it actually falls over, crushing him. He is rushed to the hospital and has a brain injury that causes his death.

Daniel’s actor friends end up making decisions about his body and his legacy. They have all been moved by his research, his work on the historical Jesus, and the passion he had. They agree to continue his work and they give permission for his organs to be donated. These two actions are Daniel’s resurrection.

Jesus of Montreal parallels the passion story of Jesus of Nazareth. Our traditional word for today is from the Gospel of Mark: But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

My son Adam called me mid-week and asked how my day was. I laughed and without really thinking about it, I said, “You know that most of my days are spent doing things people wouldn’t think about as ministry… going to meetings and advising staff members and answering the phone and email. But today and yesterday, I did the things that people assume ministers do all the time – I sat with a dying person, I met with a grieving family, I counseled a married couple, I conducted a funeral and I conducted a wedding. I love doing those things,” I said, “But it is draining work to be present with someone. It is easier to do things for those who are hurting: cook, run errands, speak platitudes.”

I am no different than you. We all have email and phone calls and meetings and stuff we have to do. And it is easy to fill our lives with those mundane tasks. Sometimes I find myself under the illusions of control, like the priest in the movie. Sometimes I am disconnected from compassionate relationship.

But we get reminded again and again that gathering the courage to be present to the deep shadows is what will allow us to be connected to one another, and to our God. For this is the practice to which we are all called: to sit in awareness of the shadows, in connection with one another and with God. For there we discover that “the dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”

In June last summer, a family that my family has known for many years had a 16 year old daughter run away. They didn’t know what happened to her. The K9 unit led the police to a nearby road and it seemed that she must have walked that far and then someone picked her up in a car. There were rumors that she was seen around Wichita with homeless people. Others speculated that she met someone online and was on the run. Our friends hired private detectives to find her – to no avail. Posters with her picture were distributed; websites dedicated to finding her were launched; a Facebook page was created; friends and family searched. Last Saturday – 9 months later – her remains were found in a cornfield near her home.

Her parents, who are worn down from months of not knowing, were angry and hopeless, and deeply grieving. My mom (who lost a child of her own under different circumstances) went to spend some time with them. My mom (who had taken this girl on vacation with her, and who was deeply grieving herself), helped them plan their next steps. She led them through a discussion of how to design her grave marker. She suggested that they use it – since they aren’t having a memorial service – as a way to tell their daughter’s story.

They decided to put her picture on the stone. And a guitar, because she loved to play. They picked the words on the stone: “Music and animal lover. Beloved daughter and sister.”

Mom called me on the way home from an afternoon of tears and memories. Because she spent the day with them, she hadn’t made a lesson for her Wednesday night middle school class at church. All she had were a few ceramic eggs for them to paint for Easter. We quickly discussed using the story of this missing teen – now deceased – to spark a discussion among the students about their own legacies.
• If something happened to them, what would they want people to remember?
• As they live, what is important to them?
• No matter when their lives are over, what words would they want on their grave?

Mom had printed off several pictures of the teen who had died. She shared those with her class and the weight of the day made her teary. One of the girls in the class got up, went over to my mom, and kneeled beside her chair. She put her arm around her and stayed that way for some time.

The middle schoolers at 10th Ave. United Methodist had quite a discussion this week while they painted on ceramic Easter eggs. They sat together in a solemn and dark place while they searched their hearts. They were talking about so much more than a 16 year old missing girl who died. They were talking about what really matters in life. And in their words and in their actions, more than one person was resurrected.

The season of Lent is when we sit in the darkness and we find ourselves present in the hard places of life. We intentionally experience those difficult, lonely, corners of reality. Because we believe that it is in compassionate relationship with one another and with God that we find hope. It is in the dark that light will shine. It is in the deepest pain that someone will kneel next to us and hold us and tell us that they care.

Resources Used:
Rev. Eliza Tweedy. “In Awareness of the Shadows”. RevGalBlogPals e.reader. Mar. 8, 2018.

Frederic & Mary Ann Brussat. Jesus of Montreal film review. Spiritualityandpractice.com.