Thinking Anglicans

Easter weekend roundup

Two columns from Saturday’s The Times

Geoffrey Rowell on Story which transforms both living and dying

…The Christian Church dares to proclaim that here, in this life and this death, we encounter God, the source and the sustainer of all life and being, emptying Himself, coming down to the lowest part of our need. Today, Holy Saturday, is the most paradoxical day of the Christian year, a day when indeed God is dead. In love He chooses freely to know our dying, and Christian devotion and imagination speak of Christ descending to the place of the departed, shattering the imprisoning gates and chains and bars of Hades. Tomorrow, Easter Day, the nothingness of today explodes into a fullness of life, which is a new creation, blowing history open. The horizon of our human life is no longer death, but risen life in Christ.

This is the overarching story, “the one story only which will prove worth your telling”; for it is the story of the God who made us, and loved us, and in thirsting love has re-made us. Easter is indeed about the resurrection of Christ — which is neither a descent from or denial of the cross, nor a resurrection of relics, but a new creation, a transfiguration of human life and history. Easter touches us with eternal life, and the Lord who breathes on His disciples on the first Easter evening, is the Lord who is still the Lord and Giver of life, making of His Church an Easter people. This indeed is a love and a life which will never let us down and will never let us go, an overarching story which transforms both our living and our dying. “Christ is risen and the demons” — the dark, imprisoning powers of every kind — “are indeed fallen!”

Richard Harries on From cold, rolled stone to blood-streaked man

…The Christian West gradually lost its earlier reluctance to depict Jesus rising from the tomb. And there have been some very remarkable depictions, not least Piero della Francesca’s mural in the town museum in Sansepolcro. Aldous Huxley described it, without qualification, as “the best picture in the world”. For him it expressed the humanist ideal. He saw in the Christ figure, with its beautiful, muscled body, like a Greek athlete, a Resurrection of classical reality. More haunting than this is the resurrected Christ by Bramantino, now in Madrid. This Christ, still partially swathed in his white winding sheet and bathed in moonlight, has an unearthly pallor, except for the wounds and eyes, bloodshot with tears, staring directly at the viewer. This is a Christ that still bears the marks of death. By contrast, as Huxley observed, Piero’s Christ looks all set to live a fully human life on the human stage.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, 20th-century Christian art was dominated by depictions of Christ tortured on the cross. There is of course the sheer difficulty of depicting the resurrected Christ in a way that is not crass and literalistic. No less significant is our scepticism about any suggestion of a happy ending. Iris Murdoch once wrote that “all that consoles is fake” summing up the attitude of a culture soaked in Freud. Some of the most successful depictions focus on the relationship of the risen Christ with one of His followers, as in Graham Sutherland’s Noli Me Tangere in Chichester Cathedral. Equally good is the supper at Emmaus by Ceri Richards, above the altar at St Edmund Hall in Oxford. It is a fine picture, and avoids over-literalism by having Christ at the table against the background of a great cross of yellow light, emerging from it but not fully tangible. One of the disciples looks startled, the other slow and sceptical…

The Guardian on Saturday had Geza Vermes give his view of the passion chronology in Death in the afternoon.

In the Telegraph Christopher Howse had Embracing in a watery grave.

Paul Handley wrote in the Independent about The Christian gift is to convert despair into humour

…The oddness of today takes on a greater significance if we adopt the argument of those who say that, in essence, we live permanently in Holy Saturday. We are sinful, and yet saved; saved, yet sinful. The act that rescued us from evil has taken place, and yet evil persists, and we are caught up in it. On a spiritual level (whatever that is), we must confront our complicity in the murder of Christ. The biblical record suggests that Jesus allowed himself to hope that death was not inevitable. After all, a palm-waving crowd had cheered him into Jerusalem when he arrived to confront the religious authorities. We have seen plenty of examples from Eastern Europe in recent months of the power that can be wielded by an unarmed opposition leader if he has the active support of the masses. But, although the orange-waving crowds took courage from each other, the decision to camp out in a draughty square had to be taken by each frightened individual. And this is us. We are not, as a rule, the psychopaths who bang in the nails; we are members of the crowd of followers who stand around and watch the tragedy unfold.

Our sins aren’t even bold, or Faustian. We are simply the ones who melt away; who, when Jesus is taken, suddenly find other things that need our attention. Freedom Square, the Martyrs’ Square are empty, when all that was needed to turn tragedy to triumph was our presence.

Living in Holy Saturday is to live with this raw knowledge of ourselves. We work hard, partly to distract ourselves, partly because we feel the need to atone. And yet, as we work, a miracle is happening, has happened (tenses have little meaning here). The more we know ourselves, the more we know ourselves to be forgiven. The Christian gift is this: to turn despair into humour. In classical theatre, the technical definition of a tragedy is a drama in which the hero dies. If he doesn’t, then it’s a comedy. Because the resurrection has happened/will happen, we are living in a unique, divine comedy. Instead of being depressed about our failings, we are invited to see them as absurd, comic; and to laugh at ourselves is to accept forgiveness…

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Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
19 years ago

An interesting article by Professor Vermes. One small error: the four gospels do not ‘agree’ that Jesus was arrested in a garden. Far from it: only one of the four (John) speaks of a garden.

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