Stay tuned for more quick devotions as we update our blog throughout Easter Weekend!
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– John Hugh
I have long been fascinated by art in Christianity, or Christian art, or Christians who work the arts. Perhaps it began as a child painting ceramic nativity scenes with my Grandmother. Color has always spoken to me. Then seeing and understanding Christian art in literature, film, and paintings have been instrumental. From novels and movies, such as The Robe (great to read this week), to Ben-Hur (all about forgiveness and written by a Civil War veteran), to Narnia, Lord of the Rings, CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Babette’s Feast, A Hidden Life…I could go on and on. There is a vast collection. I love seeing how a Christian’s faith impacts their art without them even being aware of it, or intentionally placing it within the work. This was the case with Tolkien – he wasn’t trying to write Christian allusions into Lord of the Rings – he just wrote a great story, with the Greatest Story deep in his mind, heart, and life.
Paintings are also where, again, color speaks to me. There are so many works of colorful art depicting biblical scenes, and scenes outside the Bible (Peter’s upside-down crucifixion being one example), especially here in Paris. This Easter week, I write briefly of two I’ve already written about in Colmar, France. At the Unterlinden Museum, there are several paintings of the life of Christ by Matthias Grunewald. I focus on those depicting the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. I wish everyone could see these in person. But even describing them can help us see how impactful the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are for us. There are many devotions around this Holy Week that help us. This one is simply meant to show what such works of art can show us. I have four main thoughts here.
First, the placement of position of the paintings in the museum. They were placed with great thought and precision. They are not side by side on a wall. Instead, you enter a long, vast corridor and see the Crucifixion front and center. You see the Cruxifixion first. You don’t immediately see the Resurrection painting. It’s placed directly behind the Crucifixion. You are meant to see the Crucifixion first, without seeing the Resurrection. The museum actually has the trajectory of your movement towards this direction. This very placement of the paintings gives the art more power. I actually believe it’s a Spirit-led and used tool for evangelism. You are meant to feel and experience the full impact of the crucifixion before you see the Resurrection. And for many who walk that corridor, they may not even know the Resurrection painting is located behind, awaiting them. To me, it then made the Resurrection portrait even more powerful. There was thought, great thought, in the placement of the paintings.
Second, you see the Crucifixion, or go through the Crucifixion, first. This is important. You may immediately, think – you’ve already stated this. Yes, but there’s a second point here – it’s the same as it is in life. This painting of the Crucifixion was originally attempting to show the brutal suffering of Christ. The painting was first hung in a hospital, run by a convent of nuns, medical relief for those suffering from the plagues. Those suffering in the hospital were intended to see the suffering of Christ, knowing He suffered for them, He suffered with them, and their suffering would not be in vain. All this is important.
Regardless of your time or your suffering, you have to go through the cross to get to the empty tomb. You have to go through suffering to arrive at victory. A seed has to die. Death comes before new life. Resurrection will follow. We go through this world, this life, with much suffering, more than we care to admit, and much that we do is our best efforts to cover-up our sufferings. The valleys come before the peaks. We have to remember this at Easter. It’s why I’ve always loved Lent and Holy Week. They force us to focus on letting go, giving up, and all the steps leading to the Cross. The good news of the Gospel is we know the Resurrection lies ahead of us, or behind the painting.
Third, the resurrection lies ahead of us or behind the painting. When we come to Christian faith, we come to, or go through, the Resurrection. From that point on, we know eternal life can be experienced in a moment, and our personal resurrection will be arrived at later in our eternal journey. So when you stare at the painting of the Crucifixion, or at the reality of your own present suffering, you know – you know – the Resurrection always lies behind it, waiting for you. This is one of the great truths of Easter – we celebrate our present reality (whatever and wherever that is) with Resurrection hope that is both now and even more to come.
Fourth and finally, for Christians, all the creativity and creative art of their lives should be impacted by the Resurrection. CS Lewis said: “We don’t need more Christian stories, we need more Christians telling stories.” And you don’t have to be a professional artist. We are all constantly creating – from our plans and schedules and weekly meals to our family routines and traditions and church programs – we are cultivating new relationships with even the mundane work we do. For those who do give shape to works of art, their work is impacted and transformed by their faith, and we are the better for it. As Christians, our work is primarily centered on the Resurrection. Because if that is true, (and we believe it is on this blog), it changes everything. You can face anything because you know all that is before you. Our time here is but the preface of the larger narrative to come. Because of the Resurrection and the life it gives, we can,
“therefore, my dear brothers and sisters,
be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work,
because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15: 58
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