Weakness or Strength?
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 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
By Tim Shey
My eyes weep blood.
Pharisees smile like vipers,
They laugh and mock their venom:
Blind snakes leading
The deaf and dumb multitude.
Where are my friends?
The landscape is dry and desolate.
They have stretched my shredded body
On this humiliating tree.
The hands that healed
And the feet that brought good news
They have pierced
With their fierce hatred.
The man-made whip
That opened up my back
Preaches from a proper pulpit.
They sit in comfort:
That vacant-eyed congregation.
The respected, demon-possessed reverend
Forks his tongue
Scratching itchy ears
While Cain bludgeons
Abel into silence.
My flesh in tattered pieces
Clots red and cold and sticks
To the rough-hewn timber
That props up my limp, vertical carcase
Between heaven and earth.
My life drips and puddles
Below my feet,
As I gaze down dizzily
On merciless eyes and dagger teeth.
The chapter-and-versed wolves
Jeer and taunt me.
Their sheepwool clothing
Is stained black with the furious violence
Of their heart of stone.
They worship me in lip service,
But I confess,
I never knew them
(Though they are my creation).
My tongue tastes like ashes:
It sticks to the roof of my mouth.
I am so thirsty.
This famine is too much for me.
The bulls of Bashan have bled me white.
Papa, into your hands
I commend my Spirit.
Iowa State University
Genesis 49: 10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
Wow. Very powerful. Thanks Tim.