I first met the King of the Universe in a movie theater when I was twelve years old. And I still consider it one of the great graces of my life.
Mom worked in retail downtown in New Orleans. Adjacent to the store where she was employed was a movie theater.
It was magical. It had a lovely balcony, and in the ceiling were tiny lights that twinkled like stars. Grecian inspired statues posed elegantly on pedestals nestled against luxurious drapery that ringed the theater ceiling to floor. And it was huge. Row after row of seats stretched across several aisles before the huge screen.
One glorious spring day, I accompanied my mother to work, so that I could meet a friend to have lunch and shop at the five and dime store nearby. But my friend wasn’t feeling well, and couldn’t meet me.
Mom was going to send me home in a taxi, but then I looked up at the marquee on the magical theater and read the words: King of Kings.
“Mom, there is a movie about a king playing next door. Can I please go see it?”
And so, I bought my ticket for the eleven o’clock matinée. Those were the days when movies ran consecutively, without pause to empty out the theater…so you could stay as long as you liked. I settled into the end seat on a side aisle, with my popcorn, and waited for the movie to begin.
From the moment I heard the majestic music, and saw the title flash on the screen in imposing letters, I realized that this would be a movie about Jesus. He was a King, wasn’t He?
I didn’t consider myself to be very religious. I had book knowledge about God from my Catholic school, but I didn’t know Him at all. In fact, I was rather afraid of Him. Yet, for as long as I could remember, I had always felt a strong attraction to this mysterious God, and would sometimes catch myself daydreaming about Him, most especially, Jesus…the Crucified One.
But, I certainly had no intention of falling in love with Him while watching a movie. Yet, when Jeffrey Hunter appeared on the screen as the adult Christ, my heart soared….not for the handsome actor. Even then, I knew the difference. No, it was the Person of Jesus Christ Who attracted every fiber of my being. I was mesmerized as I watched Him gently hold in His arms the foaming at the mouth demoniac. And when He visited John the Baptist in prison, I wanted to grasp His hand and hold on the way John did.
I loved Him for defending that poor woman caught in adultery, and I imbibed every peaceful, loving and challenging word of the Sermon on the Mount. I wept with Him in His Agony in the Garden, and could barely watch the scourging and crucifixion. And then it all ended…. with only His shadow on the sand and those awesome words: ” I am with you always, even until the end of the world.”
If ever there was a movie I didn’t want to end, it was this one. And yet the screen went dark…for a few minutes. But then it all began again: the music, the title, the Story…and I stayed. I stayed and watched the second viewing of this three hour long movie.
I was alone, in an empty part of the theater, yet I did not feel alone. I felt warm and joyful and hopeful inside…and yes, even loved. I followed Jesus throughout His life again…this time focusing more on Who He was than what He did.
Jesus came alive for me on that screen, as He never had in my religion books or sermons I’d heard, or even the Bible stories we read at school. He knew I had needed to “see” Him.
And although it would be 13 more years before we sealed that first encounter, I never forgot our “first” meeting. He was always with me…calling me, reminding me of His Love. Although I fell into sin, and even stopped attending Mass for a time, He was always there. He was unforgettable.
In the theater, the third showing had begun, and I desperately wanted to stay…to stay forever, but I knew my parents would be waiting for me. I stayed as long as I could, about an hour, and then slowly left the theater, fighting back tears.
Mom and Dad were amazed that I had spent the entire day at one movie, but they didn’t ask any questions. And I was grateful for that, as I had a need to be silent in that way that we do when we have felt the Master’s touch.
Since then, other more sophisticated and refined productions of the Life of Jesus have been produced, and I have seen as many as I heard about.
But superior though they may be by critics’ standards, none have ever transformed my life like that day I spent at the movies with the King of all kings.
Jesus, You are so beyond words…even the tongues of angels cannot praise You as You deserve. Thank You for capturing my heart when I was twelve. I didn’t realize at the time the depth of what I had experienced. It would lie buried within for the next several years, but I knew You and I never ceased to desire You, even when I was running away from You. O my King, may we never be separated again! I love You!
How great and wonderful are all your works,
Lord God Almighty;
upright and true are all Your ways,
King of nations.
Who does not revere and glorify your name, O Lord?
For you alone are holy,
and all nations will come and adore you
for the many acts of saving justice you have shown. (Revelation 15: 3-4) NJB