Centuries of preaching and art have led us to assume without a thought that the two disciples who traveled from Jerusalem to Emmaus the Sunday after the Crucifixion, and dined there with the resurrected Christ, were men. Surely one of them was: the Bible tells us his name was Cleopas (Luke 24:18). But it leaves his companion unnamed.
Their case is built by conflating the identities of “Mary, mother of James” (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40, 16:1; Luke 24:10), present at the Crucifixion and a witness of the empty tomb, and “Mary, wife of Clopas” (John 19:25), also present at the Crucifixion, and then recognizing “Clopas” as a variant spelling of “Cleopas.” Alphaeus—identified in Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13 as the father of James—is thought to be the Aramaic form of the name. These connections are well supported by church tradition, dating as far back as the second century.
If Cleopas’s wife, Mary, was in Jerusalem for Passover, it makes sense that she would have traveled back home to Emmaus (or stopped overnight in Emmaus en route to home) with her husband afterward. It wouldn’t have been unusual for a married couple, in this relatively private context, to converse with each other along the way about what they had experienced—the rabbi they had been following, dead, and rumored to have risen—and what it might mean.
Mary had seen the empty tomb with her own eyes and even encountered an angel who affirmed, “Christ is not here! He is risen!” But when she told the other disciples, they dismissed her account as too fantastic, perhaps instilling in her a new skepticism; she hadn’t, after all, seen the body. Or maybe her faith remained fortified, and her trip home was spent trying to convince her husband that Jesus was indeed alive.
Whatever the precise content of their discussion, a “stranger” sidled up alongside them, giving his own interpretation of the weekend’s events. They did not notice it was Jesus because “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” It wasn’t until they arrived home with their newly invited guest in tow, put dinner on the table, and saw him bless the meal that “their eyes were opened.”
We’re currently in the Octave of Easter, the first week of the church’s most festal season of the year. It may be that your church celebrates only one day of Easter (last Sunday). But those that follow the liturgical calendar extend the celebration for fifty days, all the way to Pentecost Sunday! The stores have already moved on, rushing us ahead to Mother’s Day, but counterculturally, we linger at the Resurrection, dwelling with its mystery and joy over a longer span.
Last summer I visited the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan for the first time. One of the pieces that has stayed in my mind is Egg Sketches by contemporary small metals artist Autumn Brown. It’s an installation of thirteen mixed-media egg vignettes—bursting, melting, sprouting, stretching—arranged on a shelf and wall. The artist said these sketches were inspired by the work of Peter Carl Fabergé, whose egg-shaped objets d’art, commissioned annually as Easter gifts for the Russian empress between 1885 and 1916, contained surprises inside, and Hieronymus Bosch, who used the egg in some, shallwe say, abnormalways.
I immediately thought of the Resurrection when I saw it.
(See better photo, via ArtPrize, at bottom of post. The elements are arranged in a slightly different way.)
The egg as a symbol of fertility and rebirth predates Christianity, having been used in the ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia (the Near East), and Crete. For the early Christians, it had obvious crossover appeal: the extrusion of a living creature from a shell, after its vital principle has lain dormant or seemingly extinct, became a picture of the incubation of Christ in the tomb and his subsequent “hatching,” his being risen to new life. Traditions of egg dyeing, eating, and game playing emerged in Christian communities in connection to Easter, an extension of religious celebration. As you hard-boil eggs, paint them, display them in baskets, crack them together with friends, and snack on them, you are, the church taught, reinforcing the precious gospel truth that Christ has cracked open the shell of death that encased him—and us—making eternal life possible.
The first of Brown’s egg sketches that attracted me was the tomb-like one on the right. Its cracks lined with silver, it is reminiscent of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using gold, silver, or platinum. The front of this egg has a large aperture, which reveals a glass-encased pill. The egg sits atop a pile of stones—or is it the broken ceramic shell pieces?
Several constituent pieces of Brown’s Egg Sketches make use of cross-forms. One egg is pierced all around by them. But a hole provides a way out, from darkness into light.
Another egg is formed in outline only—a metal frame, arcing underneath a kneeling human figure who holds what appears to be a broken network of crosses (resembling telephone poles). The wire that once presumably held them together is snapped in multiple places, twisting every which way, as the crosses come tumbling down. The posture of the figure recalls Christ in Gethsemane, pleading with God to let the impending suffering pass him by. Life and death play together in this sketch, two elements of one story. Continue reading “Egg Sketches by Autumn Brown”→
“Journey to the Cross: Artists Visualize Christ’s Passion” (+ Part 2): As a devotional support for Passion Week and to show the breadth of Christian art across cultures, I’ve curated an online gallery of thirteen art images for the International Mission Board. Spanning the Last Supper through the Resurrection, the images come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Japan, Bulgaria, the Philippines, China, Croatia, India, South Africa, Australia, Ecuador, Ukraine, Malaysia, and Slovenia.
FREE SONG DOWNLOADS:
“Into the Woods My Master Went”: Last summer singer-songwriter Seth Woods (The Whiskey Priest) discovered in an old Baptist hymnal an unusual nineteenth-century hymn text by Sidney C. Lanier, about Christ in Gethsemane—unusual not just for its content but for its rhyme and meter. In the first verse, Jesus enters the garden and receives the friendship of nature—the olive leaves caress him for comfort, and the thorns retract so as not to hurt him. In the second verse, Jesus departs from the garden, assured in his mission, and is forthwith arrested, taken from trees (olive grove) to tree (cross). Woods and Richard Kentopp (The Gentle Wolves) each took a stab at setting the text to music, and they invited four other friends—Jana Horn, Bruce Benedict, Alex Dupree (Idyl), and Chris Simpson (Mountain Time)—to do the same. These six retunings are available for free download via Bandcamp. The diverse results demonstrate how the same text can inspire different creative approaches.
“Wheat and Tares” and “Draw Me to You”: The Windtalkers is a Florida-based husband and wife duo (Benny and Ashley Permuy) backed by a band of musician friends who seek to create songs of life and truth unto the Lord. Through NoiseTrade they’re offering two of the seven tracks from their upcoming album All Creation Groans (available May 30): the blues-inflected “Wheat and Tares,” and the cello-backed “Draw Me to You.”
KICKSTARTER PROJECT: “Refiguring the Biblical” juried exhibition (includes cash prizes): Others Imagining Initiative hopes to organize a juried art exhibition featuring racially diverse depictions of biblical characters, awarding prize money to select artists. The purpose is to help promote a Christian visual culture that does not elevate white Jesus but rather is inclusive of minorities. Submissions would be limited to current and recently graduated art students (BA/BFA within the last two years), and the exhibition would open in January 2018 at Biola University, hopefully traveling to other US universities as well. The viability of this project is dependent on the raising of funds through Kickstarter.
“Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures” (The Met Cloisters): On display through May 20. “Small in scale, yet teeming with detail, miniature boxwood carvings have been a source of wonder since their creation in the Netherlands in the 16th century. On these intricately carved objects—some measuring a mere two inches (five centimeters) in diameter—the miracles and drama of the Bible unfold on a tiny stage. Many of the works can be opened and closed: masterfully crafted hinges and clasps still function today. . . . Offering new insight into the methods of production and cultural significance of these awe-inspiring works of art, this exhibition [organized in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Rijksmuseum] highlights more than four years of research that has used cutting-edge technology to understand these elegantly precise miniature rosaries, prayer beads and altarpieces.” The AGO’s Boxwood Project is a fantastic resource—an online catalogue raisonné, with photos and essays.
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Consider the incredible self-control Jesus exercises in his appearance before Pilate. He has just come from his religious trial, where he was passed from Annas to Caiaphas to the Sanhedrin and found guilty of blasphemy. But the Sanhedrin does not have the authority to issue death sentences, so they turn Jesus over to the civil authorities, claiming he’s a threat to Roman power, guilty of sedition.
Both charges are false, and yet Jesus gives no defense against either one. Why? Why not prove that he truly is the Son of God, and that he’s no insurrectionist? Why not clear his name? In John’s account of the trial before Pilate (18:33–38), Jesus is more verbal; he explains, “My kingdom is not of this world.” But still, he offers no hard evidence, calls no witnesses (they’ve scattered anyway). He essentially sits back and lets the judgment fall.
English poet and clergyman Richard Crashaw (ca. 1613–1649) was inspired by Christ’s silence under pressure to pen an epigrammatic verse unpacking its significance. As a teenager attending Charterhouse School in London, he and his fellow students were required to write epigrams based on the epistle and Gospel readings from the day’s chapel services, and it’s a practice Crashaw continued throughout his life. The following was originally published in Steps to the Temple: Sacred Poems, with Other Delights of the Muses in 1646.
“Matthew 27”by Richard Crashaw
And he answered them nothing.
O Mighty Nothing! unto thee,
Nothing, we owe all things that be.
God spake once when he all things made,
He sav’d all when he Nothing said.
The world was made of Nothing then;
’Tis made by Nothing now again.
In “Matthew 27,” Crashaw apostrophizes the word Nothing. (Apostrophe is a poetic device in which the speaker addresses an absent person, an abstract idea, or a thing; Paul does it, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15:55: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”) He plays on its opposite: everything. By no thing comes all things. Continue reading “The “Nothing” that won our salvation”→
“. . . circle through New York” project: What a clever way to foster relationships and spread cultural wealth! “In their new project A talking parrot, a high school drama class, a Punjabi TV show, the oldest song in the world, a museum artwork, and a congregation’s call to action circle through New York, artists Lenka Clayton and Jon Rubin create a complex system of social and material exchange that brings together city communities often separated by cultural, economic, geographic, or circumstantial boundaries. The artists have drawn an imaginary circle through Harlem, the South Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan’s Upper East Side and invited six public venues along the circle’s path to participate in a system of social and material exchange. These spaces, which include a pet store, a high school, a TV network, an academic research institute, the Guggenheim, and a church, serve as the project’s cocreators and hosts. The artists worked with the venues to select aspects of their identities—referenced in the project’s full title—that will rotate among the six locations over a period of six months.” Commissioned as part of the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative, the project is now in its second month and will wrap up in August.
“The Shimmering Glory of a Modern Indigenous New Zealand Chapel”: Completed in 1961, the Futuna Chapel in Wellington is, according to architect Nick Bevin, “New Zealand’s most significant building of the twentieth century.” Influenced by elements of wharenui (Maori meetinghouses), it was designed by John Scott, the country’s first university-trained Maori architect, as part of a retreat center for the Catholic Marist Brothers, and was built by volunteers from the order. Auckland artist Jim Allen was hired to design the acrylic glass windows, a Stations of the Cross frieze, and several mosaics, and to sculpt a crucifix for the main altar. The Society of Mary had to sell the retreat center in 2000 for financial reasons; the Futuna Trust has been formed to protect the chapel from demolition, but not before the surrounding land was turned into a townhouse development. The chapel is now deconsecrated, serving as host to lectures, concerts, and other events. Many great photos of its interior and exterior can be viewed at the link above, or, for further study, check out the recent book Futuna: Life of a Building.
Disney animator Glen Keane on spiritual transformation: Last month’s theatrical release of Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast has sparked renewed interest in the 1991 animated classic. On one of the special features of the DVD/Blu-ray release of the animated version, I was fascinated to hear that Glen Keane—who animated the original Beast along with Ariel, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Rapunzel, and many other beloved Disney characters—is a Christian whose own story of spiritual transformation was the driving inspiration, for him, behind the Beast’s transformation sequence at the end of the movie. (Visual influences included Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais and Michelangelo’s slave sculptures.) In an interview, Keane described his approach to animating this climactic moment:
For me, it’s really an expression of my spiritual life. There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new.” I wrote that on my exposure sheet there as I’m drawing this, because it’s really about an inner spiritual transformation that’s taking place with the Beast. And I saw it as a parable of my own life—that I got to express that. It was sincere, it was real for me. It was very real for the prince. I don’t know that there’s ever an illustration more clear as to what really can take place in a person’s life spiritually than this animated character transforming from an animal to the prince.
“The Dark of Doubt Dispelled: Odilon Redon’s Day appears at last . . .”: On March 26 I wrote a reflection for ArtWay on one of Odilon Redon’s lithographs. Showing the head of Christ haloed by the sun, his crown of thorns disentangling, it’s the last in a suite of twenty-four prints inspired by Gustave Flaubert’s novel/drama The Temptation of Saint Anthony.
Cities, a five-song cycle by Jonathon Roberts: “I have a personal goal of setting the whole Bible to music,” writes Jonathon Roberts. “The Bible is the starting point for most of my projects, regardless of the style. I connect best with a passage of Scripture when I explore it artistically. The challenge has led me down some interesting roads musically and lyrically, since the subject matter doesn’t always fit in a nice box.” Cities is Roberts’s most recent work; it’s a chamber-pop song cycle personifying the biblical cities of Bethlehem, Ephesus, Jerusalem, Jericho, and the “New City” described in Revelation. Listen to “Bethlehem,” inspired by Micah 5:2, below, and the rest here. The whole piece is a lot of fun!
Roberts’s interest in deepening his and others’ engagement with the Bible led him to found, with Emily Clare Zempel, the organization Spark and Echo Arts, which commissions works of visual art, music, theater, poetry, fiction, dance, and film that respond directly to scripture. Its aim is to “illuminate” the entire Bible, using various art forms, by 2020, creating a platform and framework for artists to explore this ancient sacred text, as well as a rich resource for the church. Look out for a major web redesign, to launch in the next few months.