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.

 

Look:

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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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