Once again, Ellyn von Huben finds a work of art and manages to let us in to the story unlike anyone we know. She did it today with Zurbaran's "Crucifixion," which is a beautiful, tragic and telling a piece to reflect upon on this Good Friday. And if you are lucky enough to be within striking distance to the Art Institute of Chicago where it is housed, go.
With this being Holy Week, my mind is drawn to the exquisite Tenebrist painting by Francisco de Zurbarán — “Agnus Dei” (or “Lamb of God.”) It’s not surprising that I would be drawn to the work of Zurbarán, often referred to as the “Spanish Caravaggio.” The depth and drama of Caravaggio’s work had grabbed me from the first slide I saw in my first at history class; there was a hypnotic appeal to the violent contrast of light and dark and tangible hyper-realism used to dramatic effect.
Holy Week, our time of Passover preparation, calls us to meditate on our unblemished Paschal lamb. This is not to be confused with the cuddly lambs that greet us in the store aisles when we do our Easter basket shopping. The truth of what awaits the Paschal lamb is harsh. Our Lord himself must have seen many similar lambs, awaiting their moment of sacrifice in the temple. As I mentioned in a previous review of Dr. Brant Pitre’s book, “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist,” we see a description of thousands of unblemished lambs sacrificed in the temple; an event that is hard to imagine, if one gives permission to the imagination to wonder about the harsh sights, sounds and smells. A moderate amount of blood has a distinct smell that is hard to forget, so much blood must have been overwhelming. The bloody sacrifice of thousands of lambs conjures a scene that even Quentin Tarantino would have difficulty recreating.
But what about the “Agnus Dei”? This lamb is different. He is here to remind us of the one sacrifice that is necessary for mankind. The sacrifice that is to pay a debt that he does not owe for we, who owe a debt we cannot pay. Zurbarán has captured this calm moment, of the unblemished lamb, legs bound and prepared for sacrifice. All we must do is follow the story that we know is to come. As Pitre said in his book, “That’s what happens to Passover lambs. They don’t make it out alive.” [p. 164]...
Today is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Take a look at Father Barron's video commentaries on the Cross, as well as a short reflection from Heaven in Stone and Glass here.
There is a terrible interpretation of the cross that has, unfortunately, infected the minds of many Christians. This is the view that the bloody sacrifice of the Son on the cross was “satisfying” to the Father, and appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity. In this reading, the crucified Jesus is like a child hurled into the fiery mouth of a pagan divinity in order to assuage its wrath. It is no wonder that many, formed by this cruel theology, find the Christian doctrine of the cross hard to accept: I once heard the objection that this sacrifice of the Son to the Father constitutes an act of cosmic child abuse.
What eloquently gives lie to this awful interpretation is the passage from John’s Gospel that is often proposed as a summary of the Christian message: “God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that all who believe in him might have life in his name"...
On this Good Friday, Ellyn von Huben offers a poignant reflection on three depictions of the Crucified Savior which are displayed at the Art Institute of of Chicago. The images and accompanying commentary serve as the occasion for a prayerful recollection of the salvific event of Christ's Paschal Mystery.
In his profound meditation on the last words of Christ, Death on a Friday Afternoon, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus begins with a caution to the reader against a rush to Easter. He asks us to linger a while with our crucified Lord. This is a caution that I now reread every Lent. For there is more to Holy Week than stifling the impulse to lunge at a basket of Cadbury Creme Eggs or making reservations for a leisurely Easter brunch. It is the time to linger at the foot of the cross.
With that in mind - in fact, while paging through this Lenten favorite while on the train - I spent an afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago. I savored time with a variety of exquisite depictions of the Crucifixion, each offering its own specific spiritual gift...
Today is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Take a look at Father Barron's video commentaries on the Cross, as well as a short reflection from The Priority of Christ
The reversal of values and meaning represented by the cross of Jesus is reflected symbolically in certain upheavals in the cosmic rhythms. In Matthew’s account, the death of Jesus is accompanied by earthquakes and the rising of the dead, while Luke tells us, “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:44-45). What we take to be light is in fact the darkness, and what we take to be life is really death. The sinful universe is upside down; the warrior came to right it. Also, our sense of rightly ordered religion is revolutionized: “and the curtain in the temple was torn in two” (23:34). The curtain in question is that which guarded the holy of holies in the Jerusalem temple, that which protected—and hence defined—the sacred. The tearing of the curtain thus calls to mind Jesus’s promise that he would tear down the temple, putting an end to the old cultic practices and the inadequate theology associated with it. (“The day is coming when you will worship neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… [but] in spirit and truth,” John 4:21-23) It also indicates, relatedly, that the authentic holy of holies—the love unto death of the Son of God-- is now, on the cross, visible to all, publicly available to Jew and Gentile alike….