One of the most illuminating images of the crucifixion of Jesus in art is that of Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Called the Deposition from the Cross and painted around 1602-3 it depicts Jesus being taken down from the cross to be conveyed to his tomb.
This is an image full of intense emotion not withstanding the high drama of the scene itself, which he depicts with intense realism.
The painting highlights the shift from classical idealism in art at the time to naturalism, for which Caravaggio became famous.
In our contemporary age the Christian church stands as an ‘outrageous statement of faith’.
It is about people with all their flaws, frailty and foibles striving together to survive in a world that so often only invests in self to the detriment of others.
Christians are not perfect and have never purported to be so. They act together, helping out their neighbours, helping out perfect strangers, offering a hand out, or a leg up to the needy, to the homeless, to those who come to the church for help, beaten, betrayed, bruised and battered often by family members.
It is far more appropriate to talk about Jesus the Christ at Easter, rather than at Christmas. Seems today Easter is now only about having a break in middle of the business year in the northern hemisphere, and celebrating at the end of one in the southern hemisphere..
This ensures many people in Australia are far more prone to just collapsing and chilling out with a chardonnay rather than thinking of calling on Christ.
At Easter our main adversaries are seemingly only a bevvy of bunnies and everyone’s addiction for chocolate. They are not nearly in the same league as Santa Claus.
And how do you explain to people’s, whose cultures do not have a concept of Christianity how bunnies, emerging from coloured or chocolate eggs, are related to the crucifixion of a saintly man on a cross?
All it takes from us to get rid of them entirely is a touch of the sun or, a big mouth.
As a visual metaphor more than a bevvy of bunnies can be scary. While cute, they are in some contexts, also about wilful destruction.
So if this were true are the chocolate bunnies a reflection of our frailty and humanity? Or are we better than that? Surely trying to do our best and ‘to do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is what is at the heart of the challenge of the Easter festival.
In both Australia and New Zealand following hot on the heels of Easter is Anzac Day, the day of the year we remember those wonderful men and women from our own countries, and from the countries of our allies, all of whom contributed, served and died alongside our men and women in wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.
In 2015 its more than significant with 100 years of celebrations taking place around our nation and in New Zealand.
ANZAC is about celebrating the best of our human qualities.
Courage, mateship, and sacrifice continue to have more meaning and relevance. Today they are at the very essence of an Australian and New Zealand sense of national identity. So perhaps it would be good during the days over Easter to close our eyes, even if for a few moments, and remember all those who have died with hope in their hearts… including Jesus – ‘…father forgive them, for they know not what they do’.
Easter is the central tenet of the Christian faith. Perhaps watching the 2004 movie of the Passion of Christ may be helpful for many. Certainly it will for many media reporters who never seem to get their facts right. Actor-Director Mel Gibson’s take on what happened in the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, on the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem is indeed very close to the bone and very real.
And it’s not just about Jesus being flogged. It’s about betrayal, about losing faith, lack of trust and the denial of friendship, which is why it probably made many people squirm.
Jesus probably felt something akin to what those ANZAC boys felt when they fell and died so valiantly on the beaches in the trenches of lands otherwise unknown to them.
“Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” he said, which translated is “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The boys in the two major World Wars, died for King and country, that’s at least what they probably believed if they had read the recruiting posters of the day.
They called on young lions to help old lions and the Empire to defy its foes. They joined in knowing that war was dangerous and indeed, many joined precisely because it was. For them it was a very real threat to their home, their district and country. Good men it seems, always go to war.
It was also more than about winning.
It was about how well you committed to your beliefs and showed courage in the face of cruelty and adversity.
There is a splendid example of what real belief means drawn by a minor character, the Duke of Sutherland, in the movie Chariots of Fire (1981).
This was the story of two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, who are to compete in the 1924 Olympics. As it is Olympics year again in 2012, an incident that takes place in the film is particularly poignant.
The Duke of Sutherland muses on a decision with Lord Birkenhead, affecting the athletes they are traveling with on their way to the Olympics at Paris.
While boarding the boat train one of the team mates, the Scottish runner Eric Liddell, learns the event for his 100 metre race will be held on a Sunday, the traditional sabbath day for the Christian faith.
Liddell refuses to run, despite strong pressure from the Prince of Wales and the head of the British Olympic committee, Lord Cadogan Liddell’s Christian convictions prevent him running on the sabbath. And Lidell it seems had the courage of his convictions.
Thank heavens is the sigh of great relief breathed when Lord Andrew Lindsay brokers a solution
Duke of Sutherland: A sticky moment, George.
Lord Birkenhead: Thank God for Lindsay. I thought the lad (Liddell) had us beaten.
Duke of Sutherland: He did have us beaten, and thank God he did.
Lord Birkenhead: I don’t quite follow you.
Duke of Sutherland: The “lad”, as you call him, Liddell, is a true man of principles and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to sever his running from himself.
Lord Birkenhead: For his country’s sake, yes.
Lord Birkenhead: No sake is worth that, least of all a sense of guilty national pride.
Every day a Christian person’s faith is tested.
They are continually required to put theory into practice and, if we are being honest, for many it’s hard. But they do just keep on trying and while they may never reach the end of the journey, it is for the majority of Christians certainly worth the climb.
Today’s enlightened societies are supposed to be all about respecting other people’s beliefs, each other’s traditions and cultures. It’s an argument for hope. It’s all about re-connecting people in community.
We should not have to wait for disaster to happen to achieve that aim.
The Archbishop and Primate of Australia Dr Phillip Aspinall in his Inauguration as Primate of Australia speech on 29th September 2005 reflected by using the metaphor of the dragon and the vocation of the church as dragon-slayer.
‘Where, then, lurk the dragons of our day? What shape do they take? Where is the fire that consumes individuals, that destroys communities, that threatens goodness? Where are we deceived into choices that destroy? Well, their name is legion! There is that dragon called materialism which flies in company with its siblings secularism and consumerism…
…Christians are custodians of an alternative vision of what it means to be human. A vision of a meaningful, satisfying, fulfilling way to live. This vision is an antidote, a cure. It does not remove human frailties or vulnerabilities. It certainly does not make church people mistake free.
The dragons of today are no respecters of distinction between church members and others. They wreak their havoc within the church as well as everywhere else’.
Whether personally involved, or not, the major natural disasters that have plagued our planet recently have many people rethinking their attitudes and their take on life.
In the future perhaps a new sign of wealth may be about living a quality life, although without so many of its trappings, and using the extra we have for benefaction.
The Easter break is a good time for this reflection and Easter eggs a metaphor for new life. Easter Sunday is a day of celebration because it is the day Christians believe their Messiah rose again as a symbol of hope, trust love and faith.
As a Christian if you have journeyed through all the services that the church holds to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, then you are talking one harrowing experience. It is an emotional roller coaster ride.
When Easter Sunday dawns for many it is more than a relief it’s a joy.
Because it’s about the hope of re-birth, about being allowed to have second chances
Easter, Anzac, eggs and chocolate bunnies – calling on Jesus, the Christ for clarity.
Has it become more difficult for us today because we have known the fear of losing so much that now we are almost too frightened to win?
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2011 – 2015
Ref: The Holy Bible, IMDb – Chariots of Fire (1981) Quotes from the Movie
Primate Inauguration Sermon 2005
Delivered: St Michael and All Angels 29 September 2005
The Most Rev’d Dr Phillip Aspinall
Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14
Rev 12.7-12a War in heaven, dragon thrown down
John 1.45-51 ‘You will see … angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of