When Frozen came out last winter, I was a little late to get to see it (I didn’t actually watch the movie all the way through until about 6 months after it’s release. For a father of two little girls, this may be a serious sin!) I was duly impressed, and I can understand why so many compared the quality of what they had in Frozen to The Lion King – both movies do an exceptional job at moving their audiences. Both also grab onto core themes from our Christian faith. While The Lion King retells the story of Moses (both are princes who flee to the desert, fearing the punishment they are owed for the death of another – and their return is inspired by an encounter with their Father’s), Frozen, grabs onto the story of salvation history: the story we celebrate over Easter weekend.
In Frozen, the elder of two sisters, Elsa, is gifted with a particular power over the cold and snow – a power which can be both beautiful and dangerous. As young girls, Elsa accidentally freezes her sister, Anna’s head – an ailment that can be easily cured, but this healing comes with a warning: if Elsa doesn’t learn to control her power, she will be overcome by it. In this battle, she has one primary enemy: fear. Responding to this warning: Elsa’s parents decide to lock her in a bedroom and tell her to hide her power. (Not sure how this helps her either learn control or avoid fear – and I’m not alone on this, as demonstrated in a fantastic How it Should Have Ended episode). To make a long story short, when Elsa inherits the throne, she is more frightened than ever: and accidentally winds up freezing her sister’s heart. The healer who saved Anna before informs her that the only thing that can save her now is an act of true love – and this needs to happen soon, or she’ll turn into a human popsicle.
With this being a Disney “princess movie”, we all expect that this act of true love would be – as it was for Sleeping Beauty and Snow White – true love’s kiss… but we are treated to a surprise ending where the act of true love is in fact an act of sacrificial love. It is Anna who winds up sacrificing herself to save her sister… ultimately, thawing both their hearts.
The fact is that we see these sorts of sacrificial acts all over the place in movies. In the first part of The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf sacrifices himself to battle a Balrog (think: scary demonic looking bad guy). In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise and her crew; in the rebooted version, Star Trek Into Darkness, James T. Kirk is given the opportunity to do the same. I remember leaving of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight thinking primarily of Isaiah’s song of the suffering servant – how Batman’s willingness to accept the blame & consequences for Harvey Dent’s murderous rampage was a very Christlike moment. Consider these words from Isaiah 53:4-6:
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
What all of these movies have in common – Frozen, The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and The Dark Knight, along with countless others is that they show us an act of heroic sacrifice: where a principal character is either willing (or actually goes through with) the sacrifice of their own life for the sake of someone they love. It echoes not only Jesus’ words, that “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13) – but the actions we celebrate today: the greatest rescue mission in all of history.
In the book of Genesis, we hear how God creates us “in His image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26-27) – and then how we misused the gift of freedom He’d given us. You could say that as Adam & Eve ate the fruit, they surrendered to fear and allowed our hearts to become frozen. At that moment God knew that our salvation would be found in a sacrificial act of true love, and spent the entirety of the old testament – spanning centuries – preparing us for something we could never have imagined: that His love has no limit, He would willingly sacrifice Himself, offering an act of true love on our behalf. As we read through the stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, along with the prophets – we see God setting the table for His sacrifice on the cross. Jesus Christ descended not only to our level – taking on our human flesh, dealing with everything we have to deal with – but He also descended further, taking on the weight of EVERY HUMAN SIN. That weight meant the pain and suffering due for those sins – and the punishment justly applied for them. And as He cried out “it is accomplished” – He knew He had done everything He could to rescue us from the predicament we had found ourselves in: slaves to fear, our hearts frozen to understanding what love really is… and although I’ve spent half my life pondering what it means, I still feel like I struggle to find words that do justice to what precisely God has done for us here.
God took one of the most horrific forms of execution we have perpetrated on one another… and embraced it for our sake. At youth conferences I’ve heard speakers say it poetically: “God would sooner die than risk an eternity without you” and “your life, your soul are worth the life of God the Son to God the Father.” There is no greater love, no greater gift that God could have given on your behalf. Make sure you take some time on today to consider just what’s going on – because then the resurrection we’ll celebrate on Sunday will grow to mean so much more.
In his comments following the Way of the Cross in Rome today, pondering this very reality, Pope Francis offered a beautiful prayer. Consider his words below, as we journey into an incredible weekend in which we celebrate the fact that Jesus undertook the greatest rescue mission in human history – not for a sibling, fellowship, starship, or city – but for an entire people: us.
Crucified Jesus, strengthen the faith in us so that it not give in before temptations, rekindle hope in us, so that it not get lost by following the world’s seductions. Protect charity in us, so that it not be deceived by corruption and worldliness. Teach us that the cross is the way to resurrection. Teach us that Good Friday is the path towards the Easter of light. Teach us that God never forgets any of his children and he never tires of forgiving us and embracing us with his infinite mercy. But also teach us to not get tired of asking Him for forgiveness and to believe in the Father’s limitless mercy.