Do you have a favorite superhero? Spiderman? Batman? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? You can’t go to the movies these days without seeing at least one of these figures lurking in the lobby. For instance, Marvel, the comic giants recently purchased by the same Disney of princess in fairytale castle fame, has grossed a stunning $6 billion dollars out of its Captain America, X-Men, Spiderman, Thor, Iron Man and more sequel-making machines. Take this for a comparison. The second Captain America movie has grossed $158 million in less than two weeks. By contrast, the movie, Son of God, grossed just short of $30 million. This is clearly an age of heroes.
As a man of the cloth looking for holy week inspiration, I decided this week that there was no choice left. I needed to get behind enemy lines and so this past Monday morning I took myself off to watch Captain America and the Winter Soldier. I was this close to wearing my cassock. It turns out that in the superhero stakes, Jesus doesn’t stand a chance. First of all, Captain America can run a lot faster and no matter how destructive the situation both his shield and his hair always remain in perfect shape. Second of all, Captain America understands the times we live in: there are good guys, and there are bad guys and only spectacularly overwhelming force will save the day. ‘Love your neighbor’ is just so 1st century, it would seem.
So, what in this age of heroes and superheroes what are we to do with Jesus? On the face of it, it’s not the most thrilling of tales. Jesus, son of a carpenter, gathers a small band of fishermen and their friends, performs a miracle or two, causes a raucous in the Jerusalem Temple, throws money all over the floor, the Jewish authorities hear about it, take him to the Roman Governor, and then not wanting any trouble over the Passover festival, he has Jesus put to death by crucifixion. The movement is so small that none of his followers are rounded up and Jesus is left to die, abandoned, on a cross outside the city walls. If it were up to Disney, the story would never make it off the cutting-room floor.
But, from what I’ve gathered, this story has caught on. Six billions Bibles later and I think it is fair to say that there might be some interest from the general public in this Jesus fellow. People say he claims to be God. The trouble is, that’s a pretty exciting claim when you are alive, calming the stormy seas or raising the dead; it doesn’t look as good when the one who claimed to be God is dead himself. Indeed, if that were where our story ended, with God dead at the hands of men, then we would indeed be in need of another hero. Yet the core claim of the Christian faith is not a set of teachings that Jesus left us, nor did Jesus leave us the example of a good life given up for the sake of others. The core of this story is this: Jesus didn’t leave us at all.
But this is only Wednesday and you have to wait until Sunday to get to that part. And to get to Sunday’s resurrection, the only way is via Friday’s crucifixion. Only death leads to life. Yet this is not the superheroes’ death. It is not even the hero’s death. For on the cross we do not see a picture of heroic power. In fact, what we see is power wielded in a way literally not of this world, not in the fantastical imagination of distant Krypton or Asgard but in the deep imagination of God where true power is the power that gives itself away. Only a death leads to life. Only when the relentless pursuit of overwhelming force is finally shown up for the fantasy of power that it is and the true power of vulnerable, self-donating love is taken up, can new life come. Perhaps this is not the age of heroes after all, as the new Captain America movie states in its closing post-credits scene. It is the age of miracles. Yet I suspect the greater miracle today will be if we actually decide as a human race to take up the unpower of God and be prepared to die to one another. It is the only hope for our kind, it always was.