Cold and Fatal Heroes (1988)
Patrick Graham
mixed media on board
copyright 1988

Easter 7, John 17:20-26

Historical Description:

Patrick Graham (b. 1943), an Irish contemporary artist, paints on mixed media of canvas, board, and others types. Peter Selz, a famous curator, has shown many of Graham’s paintings at museums around the United States.

This painting titled Cold and Fatal Heroes was painted in 1988 and represents an early work of Graham’s. The darkness of this painting represents death while the bright colors represent life. Graham’s works are filled with angst and mystery like his native land Ireland whose linguistic root is ire (anger).

Devotional Reflection:

The world looks dark and drab. We hear of school shootings, terrorist attacks, wars and rumors of wars.  That which our eyes see can cause visceral reactions for us. We are uncomfortable hearing of tragedies and maybe just as uncomfortable standing in front of something dark and chaotic.

Standing in front of this image by Patrick Graham evokes a mixture of feelings. Fear, confusion, and unhappy endings all come to the surface mixed with the calming sight of someone holding a child. As dark and drab feelings surround the viewer, two lines of text sit perched above to the left. “Contemporary Heroes” and “Love is Colder than Death,” the texts read. Underneath the left side is a pastoral scene of fields showing the passage of time. In the middle of these two is a cold picture. A drummer, a tin drummer to be exact, stands facing the viewer. It is a cold and hollow scene. Obscure words standing above as the time passes below reminding us that in this world we continue like a hollow tin drum. When confronted with death, darkness, and evil, many look toward God and see in him the cold, lifeless figure of the hollow drummer. Where is God in the midst of all of this, why do we not see him? Even the words God speaks seem to us hollow, empty, and distant from our cold and dark reality.

The other side of the image presents something else. There are no words here. The scene is warm. The picture is that of a father holding his son. It is a beautiful image set on a background riddled with chaos and darkness. If we take a moment to look closer we begin to see the same color on the father’s face that is on the son. It is vibrancy mixed with a cold, yet full, figure. There are no words present here, just the Word incarnate bursting with the warmth of the Father’s love.

As we turn from the picture and its beauty to the world and its darkness we remember the promised Holy Spirit, who will teach us all things about Jesus. Jesus’ words in John 17:25-26a help us to see this image, to see his beauty and wonder in a world struck with darkness and chaos. “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known.” It is these words of Jesus that invite us to see this image in a different way. We might be inclined to view the warmth and love of the child as filling the father. The words of Jesus invite us to see the image differently. Jesus makes known the Father to those who believe in him. Through the picture of Jesus in John’s gospel we see the love of the Father through Jesus.

The serene expression of the father holding the son shows how God the Father’s love comes from his face and is shown through the Son. Moses asked to see God’s glory in Ex 33. God then set him into a cleft and covered Moses’ face until he passed by. Moses was not allowed to see the face of God. John says in the beginning of his gospel that no one has ever seen God (John 1:18), yet it is through the Son of God that we see the Father’s face. The love of God in Jesus is the Father’s love for his creation. Jesus himself says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).”

Through faith the Spirit brings us to Jesus to see the love of the Father. It is this Spirit who brings the warmth of God’s love to our frigid world. And it is this Spirit who guides us to show the Father’s face through the Son by the Spirit’s power. We may wonder about the chaos, darkness, and evil in the world, but there is certainty and hope through Christ Jesus, the Son of God, whose warmth is the Father’s love.

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