The other evening we watched ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. This movie takes the search for the Holy Grail as its theme. At the end, the Nazis force one of their own to go into the cave to get the Grail, but he has his head cut off by the protective mechanisms that have been put in place to protect the Grail. The Nazi then shoots (wounds) Indiana Jones’ father. Indie is then forced to make his own way into the cave, saved in the time of the the three trials, in order to reach the Grail. He has a code book to help him. For the first trial, it says something like ‘only a humble man can pass here’. Indie gets on his knees and avoids being decapitated. Then he must cling to the ‘Word of God’ by stepping only on those stones that spell out God’s name. Third he must follow the ‘Path of God’ which is a concealed pathway across a ravine. In order to find the ‘solid ground’ he must step out into what looks like empty space. Finally he makes it, only to find a multitude of ‘grails’. Which is the true grail? The Nazis, who have followed him, take the most bejewelled chalice, fill it with water (fountain of youth) and proceed to die! Indie chooses the most humble of the cups, and gives it to his Father, who is then healed. The Chalice must not be taken beyond ‘the great seal.’ Someone tries, which brings disaster. The chalice falls into a ravine, the woman will not ‘let go’ of trying to reach for it, and dies. Indie is persuaded by his father to ‘let go’ of the chalice, and they escape with their lives. So there you have it!
The movie is just jam packed full of Christian imagery and symbolism for those who can read it. There are two images that strike me as interesting.
The first is the choice of grail, and the devastating effects of drinking from the wrong one, or of grasping at it. This image warns against trying to get access to power by grabbing it or ‘hanging onto’ it. In the older Grail legends, the answer to the question ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’ comes as ‘The Grail serves the Grail King’. Every true man knows that what is important comes by devoting themselves to something greater than their own desires or wants. The Rotarians have as their motto ‘Service above Self’. It is this basic orientation that sent me away from the business world and into the world of the Church as a vocation. It is just ‘death dealing’ to believe along with Australia’s richest man, Kerry Packer (now deceased) that ‘The winner is the boy who dies with the most toys.’ All men ought to have a facility in dealing with the world of symbols and meaning in order to discover what is the thing that they are called to serve. That is why the man who grasps at the chalice ‘dries up’ instead of being healed.
But St. Paul (1 Corinthians Ch. 11) also talks about the effects of drinking of Christ’s cup in an unworthy manner. St. Paul says that those who are unworthy to participate in the Eucharist, drink condemnation to themselves, rather than healing. So that whether there is blessing or curse in the Eucharist is not a function of our guarding it from abuse, but a function of the manner in which a person receives it. The image in the movie is that the Grail itself does not prevent people from snatching it, or drinking from it unworthily. How does it come about that a person who is unworthy damages themselves?
The first thing that comes to me is that by not being serious about the conditions under which one receives the Eucharist, people learn to be hypocrites, and not to value integrity. This has a corrosive effect on their lives.
In the play ‘A Man For All Seasons’, Robert Bolt has a scene where More is in the Tower. His family comes to him and says ‘We are allowed to visit you if we try to persuade you to take the oath that the king is demanding. Margaret, his daughter, says ‘You told us that God looks on the heart. Can’t you say the words of the oath and not mean them in your heart?’ More says ‘An oath is in fact words we say to God. If we can’t be serious and truthful at that point, we have lost ourselves, and can never get it back.’ At the end of the play, when Richard Rich has perjured himself to convict More, and receives the post of collector of revenues for Wales from Cromwell, More says ‘Richard, I am sorrier for your perjury than for my own state. It profits a man nothing to gain the whole world at the cost of his true self, but for Wales?
When, in the Methodist Church, we only celebrated the Eucharist once a month, it was a highly serious matter as a teenager to decide to become a communicant, for the very reason that being ‘in love and charity with our neighbours’ was a pre-condition of that decision.
Coming to communion is a way of
re-setting out integrity clock. It allows us to wipe the slate clean and to start again. That is why it must be approached by us with utmost seriousness. The movie is right. Those who come into the company of God yet do it not caring where they are up to with God or their neighbours will, by virtue of the damage they do to their own integrity end up being ‘husks’ of people.
The other image in this move that struck me was the ‘letting go’ of the Grail as the sign of salvation. We have just studied Luther, and there learned that one of his big objections to the Mediaeval way of conceiving of Christianity was that they thought that ‘righteousness’ or right relation to God could be like a commodity. This substance could be the possession of a person or could be bought against future sins, or could be bought on behalf of others.
Luther saw that righteousness is not a possession but is the result of a daily ‘turning to God.’ At any moment, when we turn away from God, then life is no longer life lived in the company of God, but life lived ‘turned away’ from that company. This is the very difference between Jesus and Adam and Eve as models for humanity. Adam and Eve believed in God’s deceitfulness through the words of the serpent. So they turn away from God and step over the limits that God has set, and suffer the consequences. Jesus, through all that happens to him, lives a life continually turned toward God. So we who are plunged into Christ, are invited to do the same. The character in the movie who only has eyes for ‘holding onto’ the grail, is destroyed. She cannot ‘have’ its benefits as a possession. Indie, who listens to ‘his father’ leaves the grail behind because he believes that the gift of the Grail is not in possessing it, but in day living out the relationships of love (like the one with his father, which is healed in the movie). This is the service of the Grail king which brings life. It is the opposite of the possession of the Grail, which in both cases brings death. (In one case a person is ‘dried up’ in another a person ‘falls down the cracks of the universe’). Respecting the limits of what it means to be human (not taking the grail beyond the seal) is what is possible ‘in Christ’ which was not possible for Adam and Eve.
There is much more in his movie, but here is my take on two themes.