Interpreting the cross

Image no: XIR70421 Credit: The Dead Christ, 1521 (oil on canvas) by Holbein, Hans the Younger (1497/8-1543) (after) Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland/ The Bridgeman Art Library Nationality / copyright status: German / out of copyright

Do you recognize this painting? It is by Hans Holbein the Younger and is called, “The Body of Christ in the Tomb”. It was painted in 1521 and hangs in Kunstmuseum, Basel. It is a disturbing image, so disturbing that famed Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky said of it, “It could make one lose one’s faith.”

Dostoevsky was a Russian Orthodox Christian. That part of the church focuses on the Passion from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus is clearly the Son of God and is clearly in charge of everything that happens to him, including his death. Hans Holbein was a German and a part of the Protestant Reformation. This part of the church focused on the human suffering of Jesus, best captured in Mark’s Gospel, and so the agony depicted in the painting was affirming of their faith.

I lift this up as an example of how differently Christians can approach the Cross of Christ.

I’ve been reading a book of essays collected by Oliver Yarbrough, a professor of religion at Middleburg College in Vermont. The essays explore how the Passion Narrative has been used down through ages from Paul to the Gospels to Dostoevsky to Tolkien. The story of the cross speaks of innocent suffering, redemption, evil, God’s ability to bring hope out of hopelessness, and of God’s vulnerability. For me, this year, the cross speaks of God’s ability to bring some redemptive hope out of my most helpless, hopeless moment. It speaks of my powerlessness and humbles me.

In the Holy Week to come may you discern what the cross means to you at this point in time, in your strength or in your weakness. May you find God or may God find you. Amen.

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