When looking at a work of art, the viewer is encouraged to reflect. What is this work about? What in the painting helps me to understand the intention of the artist? Viewing an artwork gives the viewer time to stop, reflect and consider how the work makes them feel and understand something new about the world or themselves.
This work by Piero della Francesca, from the early Renaissance is one such work that makes me stop, reflect and consider Jesus at his resurrection. It’s not a pretty painting.
Jesus here is depicted as a strong ‘athletic’ figure who has faced such bleakness;- betrayed, abandoned, beaten and crucified and ultimately cut off from his Father. And He conquered it all. His face speaks of the ordeal he has faced on our behalf.
The background, if you look closely on the left of Christ is dead and leafless, barren, yet to the right depicted as abundant life and flourishing. We can read there has been a change, earthly renewal, new life to the full. The regeneration of the earth. New creation. From death to life.
Christ is crowned not with thorns but in his glory as the king. He holds the flag of victory, robed in splendour and strides from death into his kingdom to reign with all authority as the creator and sustainer of the world.
What do we make of the four soldiers--asleep in the face of Christ’s victory?
I see a reflection of the disciples who in the garden of Gethsemane cannot stay awake or support Christ as he agonises over the cup he is about to drink. Or maybe it’s the way of humanity--subject to death where Christ now stands victorious over it--Christ who has broken death’s power and the first one risen to life eternal. And perhaps we are to remember the soldiers placed at the tomb by Pilate to ensure the body isn’t removed by the zealous disciples, but who lay powerless to reveal the truth by their inability to see.
I stop and reflect on this work not because of its inherent beauty but the beauty of the one it features. Christ, my lord who suffered and died in my place and now reigns with his Father in glory.
My prayer for us this Easter is that we will stop and reflect on Christ the Lord. That on Good Friday we might reflect on his punishment for ours, his death for ours and then on Sunday see his victory as our victory--over sin and death. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed!