Avengers: Endgame was released in theaters two weeks ago and is the culmination of 11 years and 22 superhero films. At the time of this writing, the movie is currently sitting at the second highest-grossing movie of all time, the most tweeted about movie of all time, the #1 pre-release ticket sales of all time, and is shattering several other records left and right. Many are speculating that Avatar‘s all time record for worldwide gross ($2.78 billion) is within reach for the MCU juggernaut and to pass it, at this point, is merely a formality. Millions of fans around the planet have been waiting for this movie to come out, and now that it has, are going back for repeat viewings with no sign of slowing down.
For me, this is a movie I have been waiting for my entire life! As a comic book fan, I’ve enjoyed seeing one wonderful story after another adapted into a successful movie, not only as a good movie in and of itself, but also a faithful adaptation of characters I’ve been reading for years. Prior to this film, I had seen every Marvel Studios offering in the theater, beginning with Iron Man, which came out during my last year of seminary in 2008, all the way through to Captain Marvel this year (yes, that record even includes Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk. I’m committed). After having been completely blown away by Avengers: Infinity War last year, I was poised and ready for part 2 of the last chapter, waiting with bated breath for its sequel to be released and tie a nice bow around the entire saga.
Then I saw the release date. April 26, 2019.
It was scheduled to be released during Holy Week 2019 for the Orthodox faithful of the world, specifically on our Good Friday. What do I do? I needed to see it, and normally the only question would have been, simply, on which night! If I were Catholic or Protestant or any number of other denominations (which I would not do), my Holy Week, assuming I had one, would have been the week before, with the film being released the Friday after our (Western) Pascha. Convenient for many, but not so much for other Christians like me.
Oh, and besides all this, I’m kind of a priest. So that makes things a little trickier.
And yet it didn’t.
Despite how much I was looking forward to this film, despite how much press it was getting, despite knowing how many of my usual geek news sites I would have to avoid and how many times I’d have to request that people not talk about it around me…it really was not a hard choice at all.
If you know me, that might come as a bit of a shock. It kind of was to me too. You might say (as some did), that I could go see a pre-release screening on the afternoon of what would have been our Holy Thursday. Perhaps a midnight showing the wee hours of Holy Friday. Holy Saturday afternoon had a huge amount of time during the day when I could have gone, maybe while my family was coloring Easter eggs. I had, if not quite ample opportunity, enough opportunity to go if I wanted to. I chose not to.
Part of that is because yes, a priest has to be focused and prepared whenever he celebrates a service, whether (technically) a sacrament or not. I believe this. But part of it, simply put, was because of a bit of an introspection I had to do on my own about what was of more value to me, even if it does seem silly to compare the two: arguably the greatest form of entertainment imaginable to me, or the apex of my Church’s liturgical year? Only one could win out… and it was the latter. It wasn’t even necessarily a conscious decision. It just kind of, happened.
Fast forward to the evening of Good Friday of the Julian Calendar (used by most Orthodox throughout the world). My parish was packed. We had just finished the service of the Lamentations, which, for many Orthodox Christians, is one of the three or four most holy days of the ecclesiastical year, one which even many who don’t practice their faith keep circled on their calendars. I stood before the people in the center aisle, before inviting them to come forward and receive their flowers from Christ’s tomb, and offered a few remarks as I do at the end of each service. I began by stating the obvious:
“In addition to this incredible feast today, which we have been celebrating for millennia… something else is being celebrated in this country.”
“A movie came out today.”
Laughter. Everyone knew exactly who their pastor was and who he is on the inside.
I continued by talking about how these kinds of gigantic franchises are promoted to create anticipation, how interest is often built well in advance by the release of some kind of “teaser” for the film. A teaser trailer dangles just enough scenes and just enough lines, cool action, and great music to get us interested in the BIG DEAL, the movie itself!! The tease builds the anticipation for the main event.
That night, I expressed to the faithful that the greatest teaser in the history of humankind, however, is at the end of the Gospel passage that concludes the services of Holy Thursday and Holy Friday: “… sealing the tomb, and setting the guard.” If that doesn’t build our anticipation for what’s to come, I don’t know what does.
We know what happens after this, something that forever altered the course of human history! The greatest, most momentous event ever is played out before our very eyes each year in our churches, and the action of the Holy Spirit allows us to relive it year after year after year (it is why we do not say “Christ rose!” that night, but “Christ is Risen,” present tense)! There is nothing greater. There is nothing more momentous or meaningful for any human being that could ever be.
I chose to continue the Lenten journey to its logical conclusion that week, all the while being “teased” along the way on what was to come! It just so happened that, in the same 24 hour period, the pop culture event of my life was taking place at the same time that the greatest moment of human history being celebrated. And for me, ultimately, I didn’t care, as there was no comparison.
Yes. Even for a geek like me, there is no comparison (really, I promise!).
Lest you think I’m looking for some kind of praise or pat on the back, I’m not. This post is not about that, and not what I’m looking for. To do so would make about as much sense as giving praise to a bird for flying south for the winter, or a mother for taking care of her child. Sure it’s a choice… kinda. But in reality, there’s, simply put, just no other way. There really is no choice. It’s just something we have to do. And I believe it is the right thing to do.
Even when I tried three different nights the following week to find a babysitter. But that’s beside the point.
An ordained colleague of mine posted on his Facebook page that same night, “Folks, make no mistake, THIS is the endgame,” the real saga whose conclusion we’re all waiting to see! He was right.
God has always been there for me and, despite how often I’m sure I let Him down, I wasn’t about to do it this time. I could wait a week.
And Endgame was awesome too. But that’s a post for another day.
Christ is Risen! Χριστος Ανεστη!
“Though You went down into the tomb, You destroyed Hades’ power and rose the Victor, Christ God. To the myrrh-bearing women saying ‘Hail’ and, granting peace to Your Apostles, You are He Who raises up the fallen.” – Kontakion of the Resurrection