Easter, Day 1

LOOK: Easter Panels by Tanja Butler

Butler, Tanja_Easter Panels
Tanja Butler (American, 1955–), Easter Panels: “The Angel at the Tomb,” “Christ’s Victory Over the Gates of Hell and Death,” “Christ Appearing to Mary in the Garden,” and “The Angel Guarding the Entrance to Paradise,” 2005. Acrylic on canvas, each 8 ft. high. Collection of the artist.

“The tomb is empty!” So declares the angel in the far-left panel of this Easter quadriptych by Tanja Butler, an artist from New England. The angel gestures toward Jesus’s bare and open coffin and his cast-aside graveclothes, telling the women (out of frame) that “he has been raised, as he said” (Matt. 28:6).  

The second panel shows Jesus trampling down the gates of hell (the doors laid across each other in an X-shape references traditional iconography of Christ’s descent into Hades). He has defeated death, as indicated by the skull under his feet. A rainbow, symbol of God’s promise, arcs across the scene. Shaped in blessing and communicating doctrinal truths, the fingers on his right hand form the letters IC XC, the first and the last letters of the Greek words IHCOYC XPICTOC, “Jesus Christ.” His five wounds—on wrists, feet, and side—are still present on his resurrected body, but they have been transfigured.

The third panel shows the resurrected Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene in the garden of his burial. With one hand he reaches out to reassure her, but with the other he reminds her that he will be ascending soon, and so not to cling to him (Noli me tangere, as this scene is traditionally named). I believe that the twisting object that seems to proceed from Mary’s mouth and exits the garden gate is a speech scroll, suggesting that she is proclaiming the gospel; “apostle to the apostles,” she is tasked with delivering the news of resurrection to the Eleven. But with its riverine shape, it also reminds me of Jesus’s words to the Samaritan woman at the well: “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

(Update, 4/20/22: Butler tells me she had in mind the release of the Holy Spirit, breaking through walls and barriers.)

In the far-right scene, the angel who had been guarding paradise with a flaming sword (Gen. 3:24) has put down his sword and now invites us to enter. The sentry has become a porter! He gestures toward the doorway that Christ’s death and resurrection has opened for us. The fall has been undone. We are welcomed home.

Tanja Butler (b. 1955) was born in Germany and moved to the United States as a young girl. She received her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Albany. Her artistic practice has focused on liturgical art, illustration, and community service projects. She is inspired by Byzantine icons, American and European folk art, Persian manuscripts and textile patterns, African art, Early Christian art, Russian Suprematist paintings, Cubism and Fauvist color. Informed by studies in art history and time working in Italy, she was particularly influenced by the frescoes of Fra Angelico in the Monastery of San Marco in Florence. Her collection of 600 graphic images, Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, was published by Augsburg Fortress Publishers. Her work is included in the collections of the Vatican Museum of Contemporary Religious Art; the Billy Graham Center Museum at Wheaton; the Boston Public Library; the DeCordova Museum; and the Armand Hammer Museum of Art, UCLA. In 2014 she retired from her position as an associate professor of art at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where she taught painting, drawing, liturgical art, and illustration and frequently integrated service opportunities in her courses.” [source]

Butler, Tanja_Easter Panels (Christ Church, Wenham)
Temporary installation at Christ Church, Hamilton/Wenham, Massachusetts, 2005

LISTEN: “Jésus est ressuscité” by Pat Berning, on Resurrection (2002)

1. Pourquoi, parmi les morts,
chercher les vivants?
Jésus est ressuscité!
Comme la lumière du soleil levant,
Jésus est ressuscité, alléluia,
Jésus est ressuscité.

2. Que la terre entière sache la vérité
Jésus est ressuscité!
Comme la vie nouvelle qu’il nous a donnée,
Jésus est ressuscité, alléluia,
Jésus est ressuscité.

3. L’ennemi est vaincu, il est terrassé,
Jésus est ressuscité!
À lui la victoire, nous sommes libérés,
Jésus est ressuscité, alléluia,
Jésus est ressuscité.

4. Nous voyons sa gloire dans tout l’univers.
Jésus est ressuscité!
L’image parfaite du Dieu notre Père,
Jésus est ressuscité, alléluia,
Jésus est ressuscité.

5. Acclamons Jésus, il a vaincu la mort!
Jésus est ressuscité!
Dansons et chantons, car il est le plus fort,
Jésus est ressuscité, alléluia,
Jésus est ressuscité.

6. Pourquoi, parmi les morts,
chercher les vivants?
Jésus est ressuscité!
Comme la lumière du soleil levant,
Jésus est ressuscité, alléluia,
Jésus est ressuscité.

English translation:

1. Why seek the living among the dead? Jesus is risen! Like the light of the rising sun, Jesus is risen, hallelujah, Jesus is risen.

2. Let the whole earth know the truth: Jesus is risen! Like the new life he gave us, Jesus is risen, hallelujah, Jesus is risen.

3. The enemy is defeated, he is struck down, Jesus is risen! To him the victory, we are freed, Jesus is risen, hallelujah, Jesus is risen.

4. We see his glory throughout the universe. Jesus is risen! The perfect image of God our Father, Jesus is risen, hallelujah, Jesus is risen.

5. Let us acclaim Jesus, he conquered death! Jesus is risen! Let’s dance and sing, because he is the strongest, Jesus is risen, hallelujah, Jesus is risen.

6. Why seek the living among the dead? Jesus is risen! Like the light of the rising sun, Jesus is risen, hallelujah, Jesus is risen.

Born and raised in South Africa, singer-songwriter Pat Berning moved to southern France with his wife Linda in 1988, following a call they felt while working for the international ministry Youth for Christ. Though he didn’t know the language at the time, now he sings and records primarily in French, and occasionally in English or Zulu.

His live performance above of his original song “Jésus est ressuscité” is from the Christian arts festival Psalmodia Gagnières—sometime in the early to mid-2000s. The album version uses male and female singers and has call-and-response elements. “Jesus is risen!” the refrain goes. Such a fun and celebratory song.

The hip-hop dancer in the video is Sodapop. He and his wife, Christine Jeanville (a classical and contemporary dancer), founded Machol Danser la Vie in 2005, named after the man in 1 Kings 4:31 whose name means “dancing.” The ministry organizes workshops that promote healing, empowerment, and connection with others and God through dance. And in 2018 they opened the Ecole de Formation sur l’ Identité et la Louange par le Mouvement (Training School on Identity and Worship through Movement).

This song is on the Art & Theology Eastertide Playlist.

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