Tee Time: When Jesus makes tea . . .

Tea Jesus

. . . Hebrews.

Found at shopgoodie.com.

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The Laureation of Christ

I wrote an Easter meditation for ArtWay, on the marble relief carvings of an early Christian sarcophagus. Check it out!

Sarcophagus with Scenes of the Passion (probably from the Catacomb of Domitilla), Rome, mid-fourth century. Marble, 23ʺ x 80ʺ. Museo Pio Christiano, Vatican, Rome.

“In the late third century, wealthy Christians started commissioning the carving of marble sarcophagi for use in the catacombs, their network of underground burial chambers. More than decorative niceties, these relief carvings on the fronts were articulations of Christian theology—a visual expression of what the new religionists believed about death. Along with wall paintings in the catacombs, they served as confessions of faith and symbols of hope for the community after the passing of one of its own. Funerals, it turns out, provided the context for the creation of the earliest Christian art.

“The fourth-century sarcophagus pictured above highlights three distinct scenes from Jesus’s Passion narrative—Christ before Pilate (in the two rightmost registers), the crowning of Christ, and Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry his cross—plus a central scene suggestive of the Resurrection. In all of these Jesus is depicted as calm, dignified, and pretty much untouched; the physical agony that came to characterize him in the art of the Middle Ages is absent. Young and beardless, he’s your typical Roman hero, and like a philosopher, he holds a scroll.

“Most notable, however, are the various emblems of imperial power, which here assign victory and supreme authority to Jesus. The laurel wreath, the eagle, and the sun and moon, associated in contemporaneous Roman art with the emperor, are employed by the craftsmen of this sarcophagus—in consultation with their client—in the service of Christian doctrine. All three come together in the central register, which is the focal point of the piece, the climax of the narrative, and the main container of commentary. This register shows the chi-rho monogram mounted triumphantly on a cross and encircled by a laurel wreath, which two doves peck at from below.”

Read more.

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Holiday ritual in the boyhood home of Jesus

Jesus celebrating Passover

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (English, 1828-1882), The Passover in the Holy Family, 1855-56. Unfinished watercolor on paper, 40.6 × 43.2 cm. Tate Britain, London.

Here meet together the prefiguring day
And day prefigured. ‘Eating, thou shalt stand,
Feet shod, loins girt, thy road-staff in thine hand,
With blood-stained door and lintel,’ — did God say
By Moses’ mouth in ages passed away.
And now, where this poor household doth comprise
At Paschal-Feast two kindred families, —
Lo! the slain lamb confronts the Lamb to slay.

The pyre is piled. What agony’s crown attained,
What shadow of death the Boy’s fair brow subdues
Who holds that blood wherewith the porch is stained
By Zachary the priest? John binds the shoes
He deemed himself not worthy to unloose;
And Mary culls the bitter herbs ordained.  Continue reading

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In Song and Picture: Christus Victor

Listen: “Death Has Lost Its Sting.” Words by Isaac Watts (based on Psalm 3), 1707; adapted by Rebecca Dennison, 2011. Music by Mike Cosper, 2011. Performed by Sojourn (featuring Megan Shaffer), 2011.




For their album The Water and the Blood, the talented musicians at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, revamped twelve hymns by the father of English hymnody, Isaac Watts, among them “Death Has Lost Its Sting.” Based on Psalm 3, the song expresses a stumbling in the dark toward the hope that is in Christ, who secured for us victory over death and sin by way of his resurrection. The song took on a special personal resonance for vocalist Megan Shaffer, whose father died a few days before the group recorded it.

Turning from lament to praise, the chorus calls on God to arise once more and demonstrate in our lives that selfsame power that brought down Satan all those years ago:

Arise, O Lord, fulfill thy grace,
While I thy glory sing;
My God has broke the serpent’s teeth,
And death has lost his sting.

Whether physical death or just a feeling of being buried alive by emotional pressures or circumstances, the resurrection of Christ speaks to both, has the power to “break the teeth” of our worst fears and most violent oppressors.

In today’s gallery you will find first an image of desperation, of overwhelm—a common experience in the life of faith and in the human journey in general, one that’s attested to by the psalmists of scripture and by Watts, who adapted their words.

What follows are images (some subtle, some not so subtle) of the triumphant Christ. Linocut artist Kreg Yingst shows a corpse-like figure being lifted out of grave, his burial clothes unwinding, within purview of the All-Seeing Eye. On a much larger scale, Bruce Herman presents the crucified Christ as the Second Adam come to undo the curse brought about by the first; totally dependent on this grace, Adam grasps at the vine that grows out from the cross, and Eve lies prostrate, as Mary stands on either side in contemplation—the wedding at Cana and its jars of wine a prefigurement of the abundant provision of blood at the cross. In the Anglo-Saxon ivory carving, you see the very literal trampling of evil (embodied by a lion, dragon, asp, and basilisk) by the resurrected Christ, who holds high the crux invicta (cross of victory). Ding Fang, in a related motif influenced by Eastern Orthodox iconography, shows Christ standing atop the busted-down gates of hell, calling the saints of ages past unto himself. Lastly, Yvonne Valenza uses phoenix imagery—a mythological bird who after it dies is reborn from its own ashes—to evoke the theme of resurrection. Through Christ we too can rise from death.

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Early-bird registration almost up for CIVA’s biennial conference

There are just four days left to register for this year’s CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) conference, “Between Two Worlds: Contemporary Art and the Church,” at the early-bird rate of $235. Consisting of keynote presentations, panel discussions, exhibitions, workshops, and cultural outings, it’s taking place June 11-14 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ll be attending and would love to see you there!

For more information, visit http://civa.org/events/conference/.

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Who was Saint Patrick?

St. Patrick’s feast day is tomorrow, March 17. Here’s a short clip from the video curriculum Christian History Made Easy that explains why the church commemorates him every year.

For more on St. Patrick’s outreach to the Irish, read the article “The Mission of Saint Patrick” by David Mathis.

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In Song and Picture: Lightness of Being

Listen: “I Lay My Sins on Jesus.” Words by Horatius Bonar, 1843. Music by Justin Ruddy, 2010. Performed by Castle Island Hymns (featuring Kevin Burtram), 2010.




The hymn “I Lay My Sins on Jesus” by Horatius Bonar draws together several different metaphors and roles of Jesus: Jesus as sin bearer, scapegoat; Jesus as Paschal lamb; Jesus as cleansing agent; Jesus as healer, redeemer, liberator, co-sufferer. Underlying them all is the notion of transfer, cost—we bring our burden to Jesus, and to free us from it, he takes it upon himself. Whatever it is that’s weighing us down—sin, guilt, yearnings, sickness, grief, anxiety—we are invited to pass it on to him who alone can bear it perfectly.

Though the text is a bit sprawling (Bonar later apologized for it, admitting it to be “not good poetry”), I appreciate what the musicians at Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston, known collectively as Castle Island Hymns, saw in it. Justin Ruddy’s retuning of this Victorian hymn, and especially the instrumentation, evokes a sense of lightness, of liftedness. Spirited guitar plucking sets the tone that is sustained throughout, which the piano, at first trudging, is lifted up into by the strings.

For visual complements to this piece, I chose first Jyoti Sahi’s Lamb and the Tree, which shows a lamb cut open, letting loose a stream of blood, and at the base of this blood flow a green shoot is sprouting up—life rising out of death. Second, I chose Brad Lucas’s bronze sculpture of Christ falling on the way to Calvary, the cross breaking him down and twisting him up. (Click here to view the sculpture from other angles and to read the artist’s commentary.)

Lastly, a painting by Michael D. O’Brien, who describes the image like this:

The ascending birds represent souls being rescued from destroying flames. The rescuer exposes his arms to the fire in order to hold it back while he guides the birds upward toward the horizon, toward light. The human figure is a “type” or symbolic metaphor of Christ.

Jesus is the hero in all three artistic works: he causes us to flourish and to fly. To enter into this growth, this freedom, we need only lay our sins on him.

Lightness of being—that’s what Jesus achieved for us. But as these artists remind us in their respective images, he first had to be torn open, crushed, burned.

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