Good Friday – Easter & Jesus the Christ, Grace, Love & Life

Jesus

JesusJust like a small miracle in this day and age, Good Friday is the day we remember the trial and crucifixion and, honour the life of a carpenter from Nazareth called Jesus, who over two thousand years ago changed the world. He died so we might live.

Jesus desired ‘the shape and character of his life – his grace, humility, reverence and service’ would flow into ours, offering a ’healing, reconciling presence in the world’ [1 ]

Jesus Light of the WorldGood Friday is still a day many observe whether they are a practicing Christian or not. Easter is the central festival in the Christian calendar, more so than Christmas.

When I was a child at the local C of E (Church of England now Anglican) my favourite part of one hymn were the lines

Oh, how joyful it will be
When our Saviour we shall see!
When in splendour he’ll descend,
Then all wickedness will end
Oh, what songs we then will sing

My view of Jesus as I remember it at the time, was that he held out promise; as the light of the world he had come to show us the way. forward.

As World War II had just ended for many it was a significant, potent image, one that endures.

Thankfully over seven decades,my experiences in life have not altered my belief or my optimistic view of life in. Faith or hope are all about ensuring ‘everything will come out alright in the end’ [2].

This will only be achieved however if we continue to be willing to take time out to think and to learn from our mistakes. We must also actively promote and precipitate peace and harmony within our own circle.

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Detail Village Choir by Thomas Webster courtesy V & A Museum at London

Now let us sing with one accord…is a poem of grace set to music.

Today it sung as a hymn in churches around the world where singing in tune while being about the very real art attached to singing well in community, can also mean a whole lot more.

There is an oil painting in England, far better known than here in Australia, depicting a village choir in church in full voice. Painted in 1847, the scene is reputedly inspired by ‘Christmas Day’ a vignette from The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon (1820) who portrayed Connecticut singing-master Ichabod Crane in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

This is an image I relate too very well having either been in a church congregation observing, or singing in the choir myself during both my formative and adult years.

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The Village Choir is a reflection, albeit satirical, on our humility or lack of it; a choir observed in a parish church in England. The lead gent in the group is upsetting all the rest by singing louder instead of, as he is supposed to when a member of a choir, ‘with one voice’.

The image speaks to us about ‘imperfection’, which seems to be the hallmark of our humanity. Certainly mine. It’s a metaphor as well, about what ground we have to tread if we want to both ‘follow the way’ and find a way forward together.

Is not religion all deeds and all reflection? Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?[3]

On Good Friday we can also reflect on our evolution as human beings since the beginning of the first century when after the crucifixion of Jesus, followers of his admired way of life began to meet together to remember him.

One of the most illuminating images of the crucifixion 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. It is 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 he became famous.

One of the most illuminating images of the crucifixion in art is that of Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). oil on canvas 1603-1604 courtesy Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City

Later called the Christ, the anointed one Jesus the man was outcast by his own community, flogged within an inch of his life, had a blade thrust into his thigh and nailed on a cross by his hands and feet to die slowly.

Apart from his family and close loved ones who gathered in horror, he was very alone. What was his sin?

He had given the world of his time and ours an insight into an understanding of our own humanity. He offered us grace, revealing what true love and forgiveness was meant to be all about and an opportunity to not only interpret the world, but also to change it for the better.

Despite trying to live life as well as I can, it is far from perfect and like many others I fail constantly. Although I do not usually quit trying, I get back up and try to turn the other cheek as my wise grandmother counselled me to do and start again.

I still do enter church buildings quite often, just out of service times taking the time to sit in quiet contemplation. I don’t believe I am seeking refuge but rather want to be in a place where design honoured the man and beauty abounded, and by that I don’t mean just the surrounding aesthetics, although they do help.

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St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane

In our busy world a church is place of peace and quiet apart from where I live. When I find myself inside one, as I do quite often or when walking through a garden, or along the river, I reflect quietly on the historic man Jesus and his life,  thinking about his compassion, his caring and his message of love and forgiveness to the world.

The institutional church is much like a cathedral in the Middle Ages where people could collectively take refuge because security was an important aspect of their design. Most medieval cathedrals in Europe were in reality built to hold the whole population of their town at the time.

This was because they were constantly being invaded by other raiding cultures who murdered, raped and pillaged. That idea of having a place of safety became an integral aspect of their construction around the world. It’s equivalent in antiquity was a high place or acropolis as at Athens.

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Madonna di Loreto by Caravaggio, 1604-1606, oil on canvas, courtesy Sant’Agostino, Rome

Windows were built too high hopefully for burning torches to be thrown inside, as they had in earlier timber church buildings. Built of stone they were like a fortress with huge heavy wooden doors that inevitably became their main point of vulnerability.

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus ChristIt also meant in the scheme of things the ‘idea’ of security meant that many people over the centuries once safely inside on a regular basis forgot how to look out… and why they should. They also lost the ability to go on stepping forward with the courage of their convictions, following the excellence of the role model provided by Jesus, the messenger, whom they reputedly admired.

Athenian statesman Pericles said five centuries before the Christ event that ‘Each single one of our citizens in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his person, and do this moreover, with exceptional grace and versatility.’ This is what the Greeks meant by liberty and their belief in freedom was continually sustained by a deep respect for personal honour, and nurtured by a love for action.

Jesus risen, by Michelangelo (1475-1564) courtesy Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Jesus risen, by Michelangelo (1475-1564) courtesy Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Philosophy was an important concept in ancient Greece in its original context meant ‘a love of all wisdom’. It was all about a mature, thoughtful, humble, discerning spirituality.

Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Risen Christ at Rome has not ever garnered the support his marvellous work the Pieta has. This is not a resurrection scene demanding empathy but one showing him standing tall, strong and resolute despite having been tortured and executed.

Great Art grows out of intellectual and spiritual ideas that when combined with nature and the skill of man defines its form and style’ [4] Our forms of thinking today as they did centuries ago reflect our ways of living. Carved originally at Florence 1519 – 1521 before it was sent to Rome, Jesus is depicted as not only the ‘perfect man’ but the good man as well.

He’s a marvel really, superb features and a powerful physique, naked – the ‘metal loin cloth ridiculously added, removed and replaced over the centuries. He’s all about revealing ‘Christ’s redemption of the sin of Adam’.  He is a triumphant Christ, a man taking responsibility for his own life and forging his own destiny. As nineteenth century art critic John Ruskin aptly expressed, ‘it combines the heart, head and the hand’.

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It’s Good Friday; the anniversary of the day Jesus was crucified. What better day to take the time out to pause, reflect and think what we are on about in today’s world.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015

[1] Primate’s Address: The Most Rev’d Dr Phillip Aspinall, Archbishop of Brisbane
[2] The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2013
[3] The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
[4] Carolyn McDowall, The Academy 2000, St John’s Cathedral Brisbane

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