Archive for the 'Easter' Category

Easter 7, John 17:20-26

March 25, 2013

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.

Easter 2, John 20:19-31

March 25, 2013

Historical Description:

René Magritte (1898-1967) was a surrealist painter from Belgium. Magritte was a resident of Belgium during the German occupation in World War II, during this time he supported himself by producing and selling fake Picassos, Braques, and Chiricos.

The Promenades of Euclid was painted in 1955 and has a regularly occurring image in Magritte’s paintings, a canvas on a canvas. At first glance the painting in the window seems to be a copy of the scenery behind, but, after some reflection, the viewer will realize that the artist may have painted an image to hide or edit reality.

Devotional Reflection:

Reality T.V.  The only shows that seem to be more outlandish are Science-Fiction. Ours is a society filled with images in movies and television. Images that show us what life is like or even what life could be like. But as a society we know those images, like scripted ‘reality’ T.V., aren’t always true. We know that many of these images are hiding something. So it is easy for us to be skeptical and harsh toward these things. It is easy to wonder if the director and the actors are being honest and upfront with us.

Consider this painting by René Magritte. As you study the painting, you may first be drawn to the twin peaks in the center of the window, but upon further inspection you realize that the second peak isn’t a peak at all, but a road that trails off into the distance. Your eyes are also drawn to the easel sitting in front of the window. As you look closer, you will notice the faint lines that form a canvas sitting in front of this city scape. The painting flows seamlessly with the city it depicts, every building and every window, even the leaves on the trees line up perfectly. But is it true?

Is this painting a real painting that the artist has given us to show a scene of beauty or is it a fake? Is it possible that some destruction has befallen this land or that some scar lies behind the easel? If only we could step to the left or the right we could see behind this painting and glimpse at reality, if only. But we can’t. We are stuck staring at what the artist wants us to see, wondering if it is truth or error. Knowing that so much of our society presents us with lies, we lean toward error.

Thomas struggled with the truth. Thomas had to see Jesus for himself; no mere story could prove it. Not only did he disbelieve the story of one disciple, he disbelieved all the disciples gathered in that locked room. Thomas questioned if their story was true, he would only believe if he also could see and touch the risen Lord. Eight days later, Thomas got his wish. Not only did he have the chance to see Jesus, but he was able to touch him; to put his very hand in the pierced side of the Savior. What an amazing gift to receive! In the midst of his cursed doubt, Thomas had a physical, real encounter with the one person who could wipe away his skepticism. Sometimes, we think how lucky we would be if only we could have been in that upper room, if only we could reach behind these stories and touch the living Jesus. And yet, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

Even though Thomas saw and touched the risen Lord, Jesus spoke his word of blessing upon people like you and me. Those who have not seen and yet believe.  As we stare at this easel before the window, watching, wondering, waiting . . . Christ speaks to us:  “you are blessed, have faith.” Even though our perspective is blocked by a canvas, Jesus tells us that we are blessed. Even though we may struggle with skepticism toward the bible and the words of Christ, Jesus tells us that we are blessed. Even though we are cursed with that same doubt that plagued Thomas, even now we are blessed.  Today, Christ speaks to us and tells us a story of his love. Today, Christ’s words of grace speak into our lives and bring restoration and wholeness. Today, his words speak to our cursed perspective, our “not seeing,” and call us blessed and give us faith.

Easter Sunrise, John 20:1-18

November 5, 2012

Historical Description:

James Martin is an artist from the United Kingdom. He paints a variety of subjects, and he has experimented with various portrayals of the biblical narrative. His few biblical pieces invite the viewer into a unique perspective: looking on with Lazarus’ sisters as he walks out of the tomb draped in grave cloths; entering into the presence of God with Hannah in humble prayer; and watching the meeting of Jesus & Mary on Easter morning from inside the empty tomb.

Devotional Reflection:

Evidence of death’s reign abounds. We see it globally in war, terror, natural disasters, and perpetual starvation. We see it happen quickly to loved ones taken by sudden illness, heart attack, or car accident. We see it happen slowly and tediously in dementia, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. All around us are tangible, terrible, dreadful reminders of the agitation, imminence, and inevitability of death. But inevitable though it may be, we hate it. If we are honest, we know that the world looks so much better from outside of the grave. God created us to be fully human—fully alive—and we yearn for it to remain that way. After all, death puts us in a condition for which we were never created. To be inside the grave is evidence that we have been ripped apart, body from soul, even as we are torn from the ones we love. We know, deep in our bones, that we weren’t created for the tomb in which those very bones will one day be placed. But, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And sin never misses a payment. It deals its deathly wages all the way to the grave. The grave is not a place we look forward to; it’s not a place we long to go. But until Christ returns, it is a place where we all will rest. It is evidence—grave evidence—that those two great enemies, sin & death, still reign.

And yet, into the grave is exactly where Christ goes. He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He who came to be fully human, chose to take into himself fully that which violates our humanity—sin. And that sin killed him. Upon himself, Christ took your anger, your malice, your gossip, your selfishness, your apathy, your arrogance, your sin. And it killed him. He received its wages, a reality tangibly confirmed as his body was taken from the cross and placed in a tomb. Christ goes into the grave, dead.

Of course, we know the rest of the story: he doesn’t stay there; he doesn’t stay dead. As the Lord of all creation and the victor over every enemy, he endured even death itself and came out the other side, alive. Into the grave, and out again. That is where Christ goes, and that is where he takes us.

Look at the moment depicted in this image, Resurrection Morning. In its perspective, the artist invites you inside the tomb of Jesus. But Christ is not dead. He is very much alive. So alive, in fact, that he has already made the journey back outside the grave to meet Mary Magdalene. The details are few: two silhouetted figures, grave cloths left behind, and steps leading outside of the tomb. Seeing her reaching out her arms in faith, we could imagine that the artist has depicted the moment when Mary realizes that it is Christ she sees and not just the gardener. In that moment, her eyes are opened, transformed to see the world now as a place where the reign of God and the defeat of death have truly come in Christ’s resurrection. But look again. The artist has depicted this scene in such a way that even as Mary realizes whose presence she is in, she also seems to be stepping out of the grave with Jesus. Christ is helping her up the steps and out of the tomb. She eagerly reaches for him in faith and he extends his hand to her, welcoming her into a world which has seen the firstfruits of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20). She exits the tomb with Christ; in faith she rises with him from death.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5). Into the grave and out again. In baptism, that is exactly where Christ takes us. We have entered the tomb, dead, buried with Christ. Our old Adam, sin and all, is drowned and killed. And because we are buried with the Lord of Life and the Victor of death, we are brought out of the grave with him, resurrected in the newness of life with eyes to see a world where death does not have the last word.

Such is the hope of the Christian. Such is our hope, as we celebrate resurrection life now, even as we long for our Lord’s return. On that Day God will finally and completely undo death, for he will “raise me and all the dead, and give to me and all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”