Summary: In this Easter 2008 message, Dave reminds listeners that things are not as they seem.
Wildwind Community Church
David K. Flowers
March 23, 2008
I watched The Exorcist last week. (Happy Easter!!) I know, doesn’t seem like much of an opening line for a message on Easter morning. Or is it?
Anybody ever seen The Exorcist? Anybody, after seeing it, swear to yourself you’d never see it again? Anybody enjoy it? If you enjoyed The Exorcist, something is seriously wrong with you. Jason came over last Monday and we both watched it for the first time. Now before I go on, I need to make some clear disclaimers here so you know what I’m NOT saying.
I’m not saying you should watch The Exorcist, either this week or next week or ever. I’m not recommending it to anyone and in fact I want to be clear that many people would find this movie highly disturbing. I don’t want any debates with anybody over whether a minister (or anyone else) should be watching a movie like The Exorcist. For those of you who are the type to sit around all the time saying, “I can’t believe a pastor did this or that,” try not to let it get to you too much. That kind of thing will get harder and harder to carry around as you increasingly find that very few people, pastors or otherwise, will always live the way you think they ought to. It will be harder and harder for you to live in the world as you see that fewer and fewer of your role models have ever been able to meet your standards. I say this not defensively at all, but because I care about you and I know where that road leads. I’ve been there.
Enough disclaimers. Now for the reason I mentioned this. In case you haven’t heard about it, The Exorcist is a 1973 movie about a young girl who is possessed by the devil, and two priests who attempt to exorcise the demon (get it out of her through a ritual of the church). It is shocking. It is disturbing. It is bizarre. It is terrifying. And for me (again, for ME), it was an amazing affirmation of God’s amazing power and of what I most deeply believe: that all is not as it seems. That in the most awful of circumstances, God is moving. That there is no place that God’s love has not reached. That because of that mighty love, no person is beyond the point of redemption and wholeness. That God works in ways that are continually unexpected, totally disarming, and completely beautiful.
Toward the end of the movie, hope is nearly lost. This young girl’s mother has taken her to every conceivable medical professional to find out what’s wrong with her child. The girl has gone from sweet and innocent to exhibiting ghastly and goulish behaviors. Scary and supernatural things are happening all the time in the girl’s bedroom. The girl’s appearance is beginning to change. Her speech has become filthy. She regularly mutilates herself. Her bed bounces up and down even when she’s laying perfectly still. Some of you have seen clips of the famous scene where, at one point, her head spins all the way around. Scars have begun to appear on her face, and her lips are constantly dry and cracked. She has gone through painful medical tests. She has seen psychiatrists. Everyone has tried to explain this as something physical. The desperate mother finally consults a priest and eventually he agrees to find someone to do a ritual of exorcism on this girl.
And so into this horrible, seemingly God-forsaken place, walks a priest. An old man. A very old man. A man who is obviously physically weak. A man who can barely carry the weight of his own body. And in he goes with his prayer book, his crucifix, and his Holy Water. He kisses his crucifix, kneels beside this girl’s bed, and begins to pray. As he prays, the girl hisses and spits and convulses and levitates and wretches, and the windows rattle, and the temperature has dropped below freezing in the room. Then he opens his prayer book and begins reciting the ritual of exorcism. It’s so loud in the room you can barely hear what he’s saying. The younger priest with him is barely able to get his words out, as fear has lodged them deep in his throat. He is white as a sheet and nearly paralyzed in terror as this thing proceeds.
And there is the old man. Praying. Reciting his lines. Taking physical and verbal abuse from this girl who is literally twisted with evil. On and on and on the battle goes. And I’m watching this and thinking, “It’s this little old man and his holy water and prayer book and crucifix against the powers of hell – evil so frightening and overwhelming it seems like there’s just no use fighting it.” Maybe some of you know how the movie ends. The priests prevail. The demon is expelled and this little girl gets her life back. But it costs both of the priests their lives. The old one dies of heart failure during the ritual, and the younger one throws himself out of a window. But the girl is free. At the end of the movie, she and her mom drive away to move to a new town.