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We Want a Day Without Death

June 15, 2016


There are two scenes in the movie Risen that build upon one another. Both scenes involve the Roman tribune Clavius who has been assigned to investigate the empty tomb of Christ. 

The first scene takes place right after the crucifixion at which Clavius was present. On the evening of that day, the tribune encounters Pontius Pilate in the baths. Pilate, I believe, can be viewed as an embodiment of worldly and pragmatic cunning throughout this film. After confirming that the Nazarene had been executed and buried, Pilate waxes, “One does what one must.” “I don’t wish the mantle you wear,” responds Clavius. “Spare me,” says Pilate, “it is your path too. Your ambition is noticed. Where do you hope it will lead?” “Rome,” replies the tribune looking off into his own thoughts. Pilate’s eyes arch, “And?” “Position, power …” reflects Clavius. Pilate presses, “Which brings?” “…wealth, a good family, someday a place in the country.” “What will you find?” asks Pilate. “An end of travail … a day without death …  peace.” asserts the tribune. “All that for peace,” muses Pilate, “Is there no other way?” 

The second scene occurs at the Lake of Galilee. It is night. The disciples are all asleep. Clavius notices the risen Lord apart and watching the night sky. Clavius approaches and sits down beside Jesus. “I don’t even know what to ask,” he finally admits. The Lord, now intent on his visitor, says, “Speak your heart.” “How can I reconcile all this with the world I know?” “With your own eyes you have seen,” responds the Lord, “yet still you doubt? Imagine the doubt of those who have never seen. That’s what they face. What frightens you?” “Being wrong,” answers Clavius, “wagering eternity.” “Well then, know him,” invites the Lord. Clavius is troubled and goes on to confess, “When you died.  I was present. I helped.” “I know,” forgives the Lord placing his hand on the tribune’s shoulder. “What is it you seek Clavius?” inquires the risen Lord as he then goes on to say, “Certainty … peace … a day without death?” Clavius gasps, his eyes widen and he is met by the full gaze of Christ and our Lord smiles. The tribune weeps; his heart and his pain have been recognized … and answered. 

Clavius was a man fully versed in war and its politics. He was a man of action and hard fought experience. Yet, he was war and violence weary and this becomes more and more apparent as the film progresses. The question asked by Pilate, “All that for peace? Is there no other way?” settles in the heart of the tribune just as the mystery about the Nazarene and his empty tomb begins to grow. Clavius meets the risen Lord whom he, with his own eyes, had seen executed. All is thrown upside down as Clavius is met head on with the answer to his question, “How can I reconcile all this with the world I know?” He cannot. The risen Lord is the truth and therefore the world as he had known it is not. The resurrection of the Nazarene changes everything.

In Clavius, we see our world and our society. We are war and violence weary, especially in light of the recent shooting in Orlando. We yearn for a day without death. How many more wars and battles? How many more acts of random and senseless violence? How much more political and social media posturing that goes nowhere and does nothing? How much more division and an unwillingness to listen? How much more fear? How much more death? I think it safe to say that along with the beleaguered tribune we also are done. Enough! We just want a day without death. 

Our Lord is looking at us. He asks us the same question, “What is it you seek?” We need to be honest. It is the answer we have known all along. The world as we know it, the world we have constructed, the world with its answers that we so often choose to go by even as Christians is not working. The wars, violence and posturing – and even those given in rebuttal – are not leading to answers. They are not leading to peace.   

The risen Lord is looking at us. “What is it you seek?” Lord, have mercy and forgive our unbelief! Help us to be honest and help us to find and live the only true answer – which is you. Give us the strength of conviction and courage to let go of all we think is true (the world as we know it) but, in fact, is not. As Clavius followed the joy-filled disciples to Galilee, he stripped off his garments of the tribune. He let go of that false identity. Help us to also let go of those “truths as we know them” that are in fact not truth and that only deaden and divide. You alone are truth; please clean us of all that is not true. 

Our Lord is looking at us. We are so violence and war weary.  

“What is it you seek?” We want a day without death. 

God, grant us the courage to live the answer.