The Gospel According to Harry: Eyes of Repentance

Spoiler Alert: Today's musing comes from a late scene in the movie, Love Actually.

Tripp Hudgins recently wrote a piece for Sojourners magazine entitled, "All My Favorite Theologians Are Dying," referring to the recent losses of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and other favorite performers. The past month has witnessed a lot of loss in the world of entertainment. Natalie Cole. Glenn Frey. Lemmy. Dallas Taylor.

I listen for theology on the radio. I watch for it on television and the movie screen.
— Tripp Hudgins, from Sojourners Magazine

Amen, Mr. Hudgins. A search of the archives on this website quickly leads to posts entitled, "The Gospel According to..." such theologians of the screen and radio. I love listening for God's voice in the raspy vocals of a songwriter. I love looking for humanity in the flawed lives of characters.

Alan Rickman played one of those characters in the film, Love Actually. Every December I set aside an evening to watch this hodgepodge of romance, tears, laughter, and music. Rickman stars as Harry, one of the less flashy characters. He doesn't dance around a mansion like Hugh Grant or take off his clothes on national television like Bill Nighy. Instead, most of his lines are weathered, cynical, sarcastic responses to his wife, Karen, or his assistant-who-wants-to-be-his-mistress, Mia. Harry doesn't talk a lot, but he says much with his straight mouth and unhappy eyes.

As Christmas nears, Mia tries to seduce Harry with flirtations. He begins to give in. He buys her a necklace for Christmas and hides it in a coat pocket. Karen, his wife, finds the necklace and assumes it is for her. Yet, when Christmas Eve arrives, she opens her gift from Harry -- only to find Joni Mitchell CDs. 

Later that same evening, after their children's Christmas play, Karen confronts Harry in the most gentle, heartbreaking way. 

In less than one minute, we see shame, regret, guilt, and desperation cross Harry's face. His need for repentance and forgiveness well up in his eyes instead of tears.  As Karen walks away from him at the end of the scene, we sense what he's thinking: "I can't believe how deeply I have hurt her."

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love ... Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight... You desire truth in the inward being..." (Psalm 51:1, 4, 6)

This is the moment where it would be easy to judge Harry and King David. It would be easy for us to say, "Well of course they should be repenting! They've committed adultery! That's serious sin!"

Let's pause instead.

What we see come across Alan Rickman's face is what comes across all of our hearts at some time: the awareness that we've messed up. It doesn't matter how "big" or "small" the mistake is by our standards. We are all sinners in need of Christ's redemption. We're all human beings in need of one another's forgiveness. King David's prayer in Psalm 51 is not reserved for the Harrys but applies to all of us on a daily basis.

The new year is often a time where we clear the clutter of our lives. We clean the baseboards and empty the closets and aim for a "fresh start." What if we took the time to clear our hearts as well? To ask God to reveal where we've been "a classic fool" like Harry? To look upon one another with eyes that truly say, "I'm sorry"? 

Repentance is a topic we'd rather avoid, as much as Harry wanted to avoid his conversation with Karen. Yet when we recognize our deep need for God, our longing for his love, repentance can make us stronger than we ever were. I am grateful for eyes of Alan Rickman that spoke what words cannot say. May we all look to our heavenly Father with such eyes that long for a new heart and a right spirit. And may we have the strength to stand still and see his salvation worked out in each of our lives.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian