Formations 03.27.2016: Risen Offers a Unique Perspective on Easter

Luke 24:1-12, 33b-34

Risen is the latest of a long line of movies dealing with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Critic Matt Zoller Seitz gives it two and a half out of three stars, summarizing its good points and bad points by saying, “It keeps threatening to be miraculous and never gets there. But there’s some rough magic in it.” Others have viewed the film more harshly; it currently has a rating of only 5.7 out of 10 at RottenTomatoes.com.

As with many biblical epics, then, the quality may be at least partly in the eye of the beholder.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) and fellow soldier Lucius (Tom Felton) in a scene from Risen

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) and fellow soldier Lucius (Tom Felton) in a scene from Risen

There is one notable feature about Risen that sets it apart from many similar movies. The protagonist in this movie, the Roman soldier Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes) is an unbeliever. In fact, he is the officer who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus, later tasked by Pontius Pilate with getting to the truth about the empty tomb. As might be predicted, Clavius eventually comes to faith after interrogating those who had known Jesus and even encountering the risen Jesus himself.

Easter is a story Christians tell year after year—whether or not Hollywood finds the story marketable, and whether or not Hollywood retellings of the story are “rotten” or “certified fresh.”

In this week’s passage, we hear this story from the point of view of the women who went to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’ body with fragrant spices. At the tomb, they meet two men in gleaming clothing who announce the good news that Jesus has been raised. Although the apostles were later skeptical, Peter ran to the tomb, only to come back wondering what had happened.

The first twelve verses of Luke 24 are rather frustrating: although the women hear the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, no one believes them! Peter, the leader of the apostles, has no idea what to make of what he has heard and seen at the empty tomb.

How might this reflect our own questions or confusion about the resurrection?

“Risen (2016),” RottenTomatoes.com <http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/risen_2016/>.

Matt Zoller Seitz, “Risen,” RogerEbert.com, 18 Feb 2016 <http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/risen-2016>.

Discussion

• If you have seen Risen, what did you think of it?
• Do you enjoy biblically-based movies generally? Do you find yourself nitpicking when the director portrays the stories different than you imagined them?
• What themes of the Easter story most resonate with you? What themes might be most compelling for a non-believer?

Reference Shelf

The Resurrection of Jesus

The resurrection of Jesus differs in one crucial respect from the prevalent first-century Jewish expectation for a general resurrection of the dead. Jewish expectation was for a corporate resurrection—all the righteous would be vindicated—which would occur at the end of time. The resurrection of Jesus does not diminish the eschatological flavor of resurrection hope but it does relocate the hope radically. The resurrection of Jesus—that which happens to one person—is confessed as an event in history which has eschatological significance. Thus, not only is the resurrection of Jesus a transformation of Jesus, it is also the immediate cause for the transformation of a resurrection hope from a corporate, eschatological event to a personal, historical event with corporate, eschatological implications.

Richard F. Wilson, “Resurrection in the New Testament,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 275–76.

A Reminder of Lessons Already Learned

Luke begins his story at dawn on Sunday (“the first day of the week”). Jesus’ female disciples, who had followed him from Galilee and had watched his crucifixion and burial, had gone home as the Sabbath began (at sundown on Friday) and had prepared burial spices and ointments (23:56). Mark’s account named two women who watched his burial and three who went to anoint him; my opinion is that Luke thinks it was a much larger group than that. Acts 1:12-15 numbers the total group of disciples in Jerusalem at about 120, and names the eleven plus “women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers.” Of this group of women, we know the names of seven: Mary the mother of Jesus (8:21 indicates she was a disciple in Galilee); Mary Magdalene, Joanna (both named at 24:11 and 8:2-3); Susanna (8:3); Mary the mother of James (24:11); and Mary and Martha (10:38-42, whom Luke associates with a Galilean village, not with Bethany). But of 120 Galileans, surely there were more than seven women; “all who knew him” watched him die (23:49), and then the women in the group stayed around to watch him be buried—this may have been a large group indeed in Luke’s mind. In fact, the way 24:9-10 is phrased, it sounds like all the women (“Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the rest of the women with them”) told all the men (“the eleven and all the rest”) about their experiences.

Unlike Mark’s women, Luke’s are not worrying about the stone as they approach the tomb. Since Luke never says “it was very large,” his audience can assume it wasn’t, or that the women felt sufficient to handle it. Like Mark’s women, Luke’s find the stone moved and go into the tomb, but Luke specifically says “they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” While they were puzzling over this, “behold—two men dressed in dazzling clothes were standing by them.” The “behold”
is meant to signal that the two suddenly
appeared. Angels? Probably, but we
should notice that at the transfiguration, the two men were Moses and
Elijah, and allow for the possibility that 
Luke thinks those two returned to
remind Jesus’ followers about what he’d
said about his “exodus” (9:31). Why 
two? The usual answer is that according
to the Law of Moses, two witnesses are
required to establish anything. And so 
there are pairs of witnesses in several
 places: at Jesus’ birth (Simeon and
 Anna), at the transfiguration (Moses
 and Elijah), at his trial (Pilate and 
Herod Antipas), and at his crucifixion 
(one of the evildoers and the centurion both said Jesus was guilt-free). But these two are angels or saints, testifying to Jesus’ resurrection; if the women were going to be like Zechariah and doubt the word of one angel, would two make any difference? Possibly Luke has been influenced by Zechariah 4:11-14, with its “two ‘sons of fatness’ who stand by the Lord of all the earth” (4:14 LXX), or possibly the pattern of two angels (continued in Acts 1) is a carry-over from the transfiguration story.

The women certainly act as if they are seeing angels; they become frightened and lower their faces to the earth (or lie facedown on the earth). The angels, uncharacteristically, do not say, “Don’t be afraid,” but begin by rebuking the women: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The implication is “you should know better than that”; the angels treat the women as if they should already have known what was going to happen, since Jesus had predicted it. What the women need, then, is to be reminded of lessons already learned but perhaps forgotten momentarily.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 740–41.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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