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Some years ago, I had the sheer joy of seeing the movie adaptation of Fulton Oursler’s novel, The Greatest Story Ever Told. I loved the way Max von Sydow brought the personality of Jesus to the screen; it was perhaps the most natural portrayal of our Lord that I’ve ever seen.
It was a long movie by any standard, the premiere version being almost two-and-a-half hours in length, and it was broken in the middle by an intermission. I will never forget the climactic scene that occurs just before the break. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead, quite a dramatic moment in its own right, and when Lazarus appears at the opening of the tomb, fully alive after having been in the crypt four days, the camera cuts to a foot race. Three men are seen hurrying as fast as they can to get some place -- you don’t know where. If they are together, you can’t tell it. You see one, then you see another, and then the other. And then you see the one again, and then the second man, and so forth.
While you’re watching these men run, you are also hearing the “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, being performed under the direction of Alfred Newman. The piece progresses as it does, moving toward its final crescendo. But just before the last “hallelujah,” as always, there is a rest, only in this case it is extended. And, in the silence, each of the three men arrives at the gate of the city of Jerusalem, winded from his haste, and they stand there together and look up toward a bewildered sentinel. And the camera focuses on the face of the first man. You recognize him as a man whom Jesus has healed. And he shouts, “I was lame, but now I can walk!” Then the second man. You recognize him as well. He is also someone whom Jesus has healed. And he shouts, “I was blind, but now I can see!” And then the third man: I don’t recall ever seeing him before. But now he shouts, “A man was dead, but now he lives!” And then, bam! the final “hallelujah.” I tell you, the first time I ever experienced that moment in the theater, my heart escaped my breast and soared to the heights. It was deeply emotional.
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