Our current series from Revelation is called The End of the World as We Know It, stealing the REM song title purposefully. And of course the end of the world as we know it may in fact be infinitely more interesting than the actual end of the world. An apocalypse is an unveiling, a revelation. When we have an apocalyptic moment, things are revealed to us that end the tedious linear world we’ve been trapped in and draw us into an altogether different point of view, the aerial perspective of a heavenly throne.
Thus I can say that when I went to see Of Gods and Men with Nathan last night, I had an apocalyptic moment. This current buzz over rapture or end of the world or whatever about May 21st is supposed to be about is not apocalyptic enough for my taste, certainly not as apocalyptic as that which was unveiled in the new film by Xavier Beauvois. Based on the true story of the kidnapping and murder of a group of monks in Algeria in 1996, Of Gods and Men may well be the most prophetic, powerful, relevant film of the 21st century–certainly so for the Body of Christ. As a group of extremist Muslim terrorists bring violence and horror to the village where the monks live their simple lives in service to the townsfolk, they are faced with an agonizing decision. To remain in their monastery would seem to mean certain death, to leave would be to abandon their calling. More specifically, in the film’s view, to abandon their witness.
As I sat trance-like in the theater as the story unfolded, it struck me that Of Gods and Men gets to the heart of St. John’s Revelation in ways that so-called apocalyptic evangelical films (from A Thief in the Night to Left Behind) could never do. As these men stare death in the face, the shape, force and scope of everything that is at the forefront of Revelation is spread before us. For Revelation is all about witness. It is the key word, the over arching concept, the narrative theme by which the entire book can and should be understood. It is the faithful witness of Jesus and the faithful witness of His bride in a violent world. It is the people of God who overcome the terror and violence of the world not by utilizing the devil’s tools, but through the blood of the slaughtered lamb. It is call to those who know and love Jesus to conquer through the only means by which God Himself has conquered–by embracing the cross, “loving not their own lives even unto death.” I wish I could pay for every person at Renovatus to see it and count it as part of our Revelation series. Seriously.
If there is an apocalyptic moment in contemporary cinema, it is the slow-burning climatic “Last Supper” sequence where the monks share red wine together while Tchailkovsky’s Grand Theme from Swan Lake plays on an old tape machine from the corner of the room. A secular critic from the UK publication Guardian wrote that “each time I have watched it (the scene), frankly, I have become overwhelmed with an emotion I can’t possibly describe. A friend told me that my face looked like Henry Thomas’s when he sees ET come back to life. I am almost tempted to say that cinema audiences should be required to stand during this sequence, like concertgoers during the Hallelujah chorus in Handel’s Messiah.”
There is more beauty and heartbreak in the French film than is normally allowed in cinema or anywhere else for that matter. There is no horror film that could ever out-haunt Of Gods and Men, as love is far more haunting than terror could ever be. This is a film that grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let you go, driven as it is by the force of the gospel itself. Everything I have learned about what it means to be a Christian from people like Sister Margaret Gaines is on display here. If you are interested in what I believe about the heart of Jesus and the posture of His people to the world–here you go.
I tend to think this is the only shot you’ve got of experiencing anything akin to an actual apocalypse on May 21st, if you watch this film and are willing to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church. I’m done with talk of the end of the world. I’m ready for an apocalypse.