Death Is Ended! (Artful Devotion)

Resurrection by Marko Rupnik
Marko Ivan Rupnik (Slovenian, 1954–), Resurrection of Christ (detail), 2006. Mosaic, St. Stanislaus College Chapel, Ljubljana, Slovenia.

And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. . . . This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

—Isaiah 25:7, 9b

Kristus je vstal! Zares je vstal! (Slovenian) | Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

—traditional Easter Acclamation

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SONG: “Death Is Ended” by James Ward, on I’ll Be More like Jesus: The Choral Music of James Ward and New City Fellowship (2006)

My church is a part of the New City Network; we have several favorite James Ward songs, and this is one of them. I can’t wait to sing it together as a congregation this morning!

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Let no one fear death,
for the death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed hell when he descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of his flesh. . . .
Hell grasped a corpse, and met God.
It seized earth, and encountered heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen and you are cast down! . . .
Christ is risen and life is set free!

—John Chrysostom, 4th century

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For a description of the mosaic pictured above, read the final entry in last year’s “Journey to the Cross: Artists Visualize Christ’s Passion.” To see more of Rupnik’s mosaics, visit www.centroaletti.com.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Easter (Resurrection of the Lord) Sunday, cycle B, click here.

Egg Sketches by Autumn Brown

Happy Bright Week!

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, shall we say, abnormal ways.

I immediately thought of the Resurrection when I saw it.

Egg Sketches by Autumn Brown
Autumn Brown (American, 1982–), Egg Sketches, 2010. Porcelain, enamel, copper, silver, bronze, eggshells, plastic, steel, and found object. Collection of the artist. Photographed at Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2016, by Victoria Emily Jones.

(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?

Egg Sketches (detail) by Autumn Brown
Photo via ArtPrize

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.

Egg Sketches (detail) by Autumn Brown
Photo: Victoria Emily Jones

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”

A string octet for Easter Sunday

Hallelujah, Christ is risen!

I first heard Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, when a shortened form of its first movement was performed several years ago at an Easter Sunday church service by the talented musicians at Citylife Presbyterian in Boston. Ever since then, I have associated it with Easter.

Having scoured the web, I’ve determined that the following recording, brought to you by Avrotros Klassiek, is the best of all those available for free listening:

The performance took place at the TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, the Netherlands, during the International Chamber Music Festival on June 25, 2014. It features Boris Brovtsyn, Julian Rachlin, Julia-Maria Kretz, and Vilde Frang on violin; Amihai Grosz and Lawrence Power on viola; Jens Peter Maintz on cello; and Rick Stotijn on double bass (replacing the second cello in Mendelssohn’s original score).

Mendelssohn composed his Octet in E-flat Major in 1825 when he was just sixteen and with it opened up brand-new possibilities for the eight-piece string ensemble. Whereas his contemporary Louis (born Ludwig) Spohr, who also composed string octets, simply had two quartets operate as independent units, Mendelssohn took a much more integrated approach, using all eight instruments in multiple interactive permutations throughout the entire work.

Music critic Conrad Wilson notes of the piece that “its youthful verve, brilliance and perfection make it one of the miracles of nineteenth-century music”—its first movement especially, which is one of four but lasts twice as long as any other, through 13:54 of the video above. Played Allegro moderato ma con fuoco (“moderately fast but with fire”), it evokes for me Resurrection joy and vitality.

Resurrection by Stephen A. Wilson
Stephen A. Wilson (American, 1952–), Resurrection, 2008. Stained glass clerestory window, 10 × 40 ft. St. Agnes Catholic Church, Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Click on the image to read the artist’s description.

Christ is risen indeed!