There used to be a cinema by the bridge in Windsor called the ABC Playhouse. It’s long gone now, but it was a special place to me. As a boy I saw Mary Poppins there, the first feature length film I had seen that incorporated cartoon animation with live actors. Penguins for waiters – what a riot! I badgered my grandmother for ticket money three days running.
But that wasn’t the first time a film had astonished and delighted me at the Playhouse. Bear in mind we were all used to black and white films back then, and they still showed the Pathé newsreels and a couple of flickery Popeye cartoons before the main show. But after the twister, when Dorothy stepped out of her black and white farmhouse and into full-colour Oz – everyone in the cinema gasped, even the usherette. And this was over twenty years after the film was first released! That sudden, startling, eye-popping transition from hum-drum sepia to Technicolor always took audiences by surprise. It had shock value. Every time.
It was as if Dorothy had never fully lived before, her eyes had never even seen all these new tints and hues before. It was an existence she could never have imagined before.
There are phrases in the Bible that should have that same startling effect on us. Here are just a few:
… for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord
… and you were dead in the trespasses and sins… but God, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ
… but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face
(1 Corinthians 13:10-12)
… present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life
… whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life
What can be more astonishing than hearing that you were once dead, but now you are alive; that you once saw things childishly, a dull reflection of reality, but there will be a time when real life will be dazzlingly bright and clear. These lines have shock value. They describe a transition far more stunning than monochrome to Kodachrome.
The question is, are we experiencing those familiar passages in sepiatone, or Technicolor? Where’s the wide-eyed wonder, where’s the gasp of delight? When those lines were read to the various churches in the Apostles’ day, you can imagine the gasps of amazement. Not so much now, not in our day. You once were as good as dead in your sins – but now God has given you new life. I think we can make that sound as dull as dishwater sometimes. The shock wears off.
Sometimes, when I catch myself getting a bit blasé about things, I put the shock back in the Gospel by reminding myself of the before-and-after; the Kansas-and-Oz of the Christian life. You can do the same. Ask yourself: “Has Christ made a difference? And what is that difference?”
Perhaps you went from fuzzy-minded greed to a clear set of selfless values and priorities; now your mind’s compass has been reset.
Perhaps your life had been a degrading, destructive cascade of bad decisions; now your dignity has been restored.
Perhaps you never considered what it was to be loved – really loved; now you find yourself loved by a friend who was willing to give up everything, even life itself, to bring your soul to safety.
These were true experiences for Zacchaeus the swindler, for the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well near Sychar, and for John the beloved Apostle. But they are still true experiences for millions of people everywhere you go. They might be your exact experience, only you really know what your life was like when you were dead in your sins. But that was back in the days of black and white. Now you have a new life to live in glorious colour – and it’s here now, not just somewhere over the rainbow.