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Jesus Christ Rediscovery.

Byline: Tim Christie The Register-Guard

Jesus is everywhere.

His crucified form is still flickering on 3,400 movie screens in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," six weeks after the film premiered. A sorrowful, cross-bearing Jesus looks out from the cover of this week's Time magazine. And he's been all over the network news shows in the past week.

In this season of Lent - the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter - many Christian pastors have seized on this resurgence of interest in Jesus in the popular culture to talk about who he was and what he means to humankind today.

"Every 10 or 15 years, there's a rediscovery and renewed popular interest" in Jesus, said Dan Bryant, pastor of First Christian Church in Eugene.

Christ's appearance on the cover of Time this week was the fifth time since 1996 he's graced the front of the newsmagazine. Bryant recalled a week about 10 years ago when Jesus was simultaneously on the cover of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News.

"The Passion of the Christ," Gibson's bloody depiction of Jesus' final hours and resurrection, is driving much of the renewed interest. Since opening on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, the movie has done $335.5 million at the box office, making it the 10th highest-grossing movie of all time, bumping "Forrest Gump" out of the top 10, according to the-numbers.com, a Web site that tracks box office numbers.

Even six weeks after its release, it's doing strong business. Last Wednesday, in the middle of Easter week, it was top box office draw in the country, beating out "Hellboy," a movie about the devil's spawn who turns into a superhero.

This weekend was expected to be big for "Passion": The-numbers.com was predicting a 40 percent rise at the box office.

"It's really awakened our society to Christ," said Todd Wagner, pastor of New Life Center in Springfield. "People are thinking more about Jesus."

Wagner said he has used interest in the movie extensively. His church took 400 people to a preview showing at Cinema World.

And Wagner delivered a series of "Passion"-related sermons dubbed "Meet the Cast," spotlighting different characters in the movie, including Mary, Jesus and the devil.

The movie's brutal depiction of Christ's crucifixion has struck a chord with many people, said Father Ted Berktold, rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

"For a lot of Americans ... their Jesus, is thought of as a nice guy who did a lot of good things," he said. "He makes our lives better and gives us happiness and things we want and need - kind of a rewarding Jesus, not too demanding.

"This movie talks about the sin of the world, which is taken away by the sacrifice of God's son. It brings that whole lost theology for a lot of western Christianity - the passion, the suffering death of Christ - back to the fore."

In the Protestant reformation, one of the first things to go was depictions of the bloodied body of Christ on the cross, he said.

"This brings back the body on the cross big time," he said.

Danny O'Neill, pastor of Calvary Fellowship in south Eugene, said many Christians have used the "Passion" to spread the word about Christ by inviting Christian friends who weren't following their faith, as well as non-believers, to see the movie.

"The Christian community in large really wanted to use this movie as a tool for people to learn more about Jesus Christ," he said.

"Passion" has been a box-office smash despite decidedly mixed reviews from critics. Of the 218 reviews at www.rottentomatoes.com, only 51 percent recommended the film.

But it appears Gibson knew something the critics didn't.

"Jesus transcends all times and periods," Bryant said.

CAPTION(S):

Choir member Norton Cabell sings the hymn "Alone Though Goest Forth to Die" during Good Friday Liturgy at Saint Mary's Episcopal Church. An image of Jesus graced the cover of the newsmagazine Time last week for the fifth time in less than a decade.
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Title Annotation:Religion; This Easter season, a pop culture resurgence renews interest in Christianity
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 11, 2004
Words:669
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