What would you do if you had a week to live?
Blow all your money on a trip somewhere exotic? Hug your family? Ask and receive forgiveness? Eat as much Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked as humanly possible? Go bungee jumping because you’re going to die anyway?
I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t embrace it, and I definitely wouldn’t run towards it. I also wouldn’t just go on living my normal life. Copious amounts of weeping and pasta would be involved at the very least.
The film Calvary, staring Brendan Gleeson, begins with just this premise. In a small, modern day Irish town, the village priest (Gleeson) is told during confession that he will be killed at the end of the week. The penitent argues that killing an evil man would be justice for the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a pedophile priest. But killing a good man like Gleeson: “now that would be something.” Thus, it is because Gleeson is good that he must die.
So what would you do? Run? Stuff yourself silly? Go to the police? Gleeson, allowed all these options, does none of them. Instead, he spends the next week of this caustic, surprisingly humorous film, going about his normal life, tending his parish. Which is awfully reminiscent of another dead Man walking.
Jesus too, knew His fate, knew his killers, knew his betrayer. But Jesus kept going. Kept doing what he’d always been doing: teaching, preaching, healing, feasting, weeping, praying. Indeed Jesus “set His face toward Jerusalem.” This verse from Luke, the turning point in the gospel, emphasizes Jesus’ determination to follow through with His message, an almost stubbornness in the face of certain death.
To be honest, I would not have the guts. I would have taken one look at Jerusalem and turned tail. And I find a kind of bizarre comfort when Jesus prays in the garden for this cup to be taken away. Not that Jesus was a coward, but that I recognize His humanity. Unlike the innumerous ways where I see so little of Jesus in myself, here I can connect, here I can know that Jesus is not some mythical superhero. He is frightened. He is distressed.
And yet, in the midst of Jesus’ prayer, He again turns resolutely toward His end. And I pray too that I would have that strength. Seeing a similar boldness, even in a darkly comedic story about an unappreciated priest, helps me to set my own face toward Jesus. Toward the road He would have me walk, be it to Jerusalem, to Seattle, or to Calvary.
Calvary is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended, though it is indeed stunning. And more than that, like most quality art, it helps me to dig deep into the better, holier, consecrated part of myself and find the strength to walk that road, instead of running for the hills. This Lenten season, may we all be awakened to the beauty amidst the sadness, the sublime amidst the ordinary, the courage amidst the fear. And face our lives, however long they be, with faces resolved, and set toward Christ.
Rev. Jennie Spohr is a novelist and pastor with the PC(USA). Her historical fiction series, The Realm, can be found wherever books are sold. For more, visit www.jlspohr.com