Friday, April 06, 2012

When Death Loses Its Sting

We all know the story by now. The hero won the victory, but at the ultimate personal cost. As his friends stand weeping around the operating table, Optimus Prime dies.

What? You thought I'd be talking about Jesus Christ on Good Friday? Patience, my friend...

When Optimus Prime died in the 1986 animated Transformers: The Movie, it was a shock to many, and the waves of letters from upset children (and their parents) practically forced the powers-that-be to bring Optimus Prime back to life about half a year later (which, given the long lead-time that animation typically requires, really was about as fast as humanly possible). Since then, the idea that Optimus Prime dies and comes back to life at some point is practically cliché. As the Transformers Wiki points out, almost every Transformers continuity family features such a turn of events at some point. Death has lost its sting. We know that Prime will be back before long.

Given this cycle of death and resurrection, it's perhaps obvious that Optimus Prime is sometimes used in allusion to Christ (the Wiki link above even suggests this), and oddly enough, some Christians have returned the favor. Some years after Transformers: The Movie came out, while I was in college, I saw a modern Passion play (for those who may not know, a "Passion play" is not some torrid romantic story, but rather a play that depicts the events surrounding Jesus Christ's trial and death on the cross), and when Jesus made his first appearance, the Stan Bush song "The Touch" was played. As Transformers fans know, this is the song that plays during the scene in Transformers: The Movie, when Optimus Prime arrives to fight that fatal battle.

Christians know the story of Christ's death on the cross very well. We tell it every year. Indeed, we tell it because we must. Not because we're "commanded" to (however much we may indeed be so commanded), but because it is the central story of our lives. Because Christ's resurrection and victory over death means a victory for us, as well as for Christ himself, we like to say that "death has lost its sting."

But when we talk about Christ's death on Good Friday, we already know that he's coming back in a few days, and so I wonder if Christians, like Transformers fans, in knowing how the story is going to play out, forget that death is supposed to have a sting. It's supposed to be the last word. When Christ dies on Good Friday, we need to remember that reality. To jump ahead too quickly is to lose the importance of that act on the cross.

Some churches, in addition to a Good Friday gathering, hold what is called an "Easter Vigil" on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. It's often a pretty long service, lasting all night long until Sunday morning (traditionally, sunrise, but not many churches go that long). Although the Vigil does end with the proclamation that "Christ is risen," it takes time to dwell in the time of Christ's death. If you have the stamina, I'd recommend finding an Easter Vigil in your area. Remember what Christ's death means. Not just for its victory, but also for the sacrifice itself.

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