Weakness or Strength?

Decent from the cross Weyden

Today is “Good” Friday. Everyone always questions why it is called “good” since it is the day that our Lord was killed. I suppose you could say it is good because what appears to be a moment of defeat is really a moment of victory. Oswald Chambers says, “The greatest note of triumph ever sounded in the ears of a startled universe was that sounded on the Cross of Christ—’It is finished!’”

Art historians consider this painting of the crucifixion one of the most influential Netherlandish paintings. It continues to be copied and updated two centuries after its completion. Still wearing the crown of thorns, Christ’s lifeless body is lowered by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Joseph is in red tights, indicating he is a rich man. He supplied the tomb for burial. The ornate gold of Nicodemus’ cloak shows he is a man of importance. He was a Pharisee. The youth at the top of the cross is thought to be a servant. In his hands are two viciously long and blood-stained nails.

Jesus’ grieving mother, Mary, has fainted, falling into a position that reflects that of Jesus. By doing this, Weyden has symbolically connected them. Mary has fainted but will recover. Jesus has died but will be resurrected. The moment of greatest grief and weakness also holds the potential of greatest power.

On the extreme right is Mary Magdalene, wringing her hands. Behind her is a servant holding a white jar, thought to be the one that held the expensive perfume Mary had poured over Jesus’ feet only one week before.

On the left, Jesus’ mother is being caught by the disciple John. He is already heeding the words of Christ from the cross to take care of his mother. The other two women are the other “Marys”—Mary Cleophas, the Virgin Mary’s sister, and Mary Salome, John’s mother.

Weyden people crying

Weyden aptly captures the tragedy of the situation. You can almost taste the saltiness of the tears that linger near the lips. One commentator called this, “A symphony of sadness tracked in watery pearls of paint.” Imagine how Jesus’ family and follower’s hearts must have ached. Tearful faces tell the story of those who thought all was lost. The hands that healed are now pierced. The voice that calmed the sea is now silent. The one who had been so strong is now weak. It seems death has won the day.

Being Human connection: I invite you to pause and ponder the raw emotion of the moment. Sit in the pain of aching hearts, heavy souls and tear-stained faces. And then turn your eyes toward Easter Sunday. Listen closely for the greatest note of triumph. And place your hope in the truth that death does not has the last word.

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12:10b

Featured image: Rogier van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross, 1438, Museo Nacional Del Prado, Spain