Tag Archives: Christ

The Descent From The Cross

Thoughts on the painting by Peter Paul Rubens.

Descent From The Cross by Rubens 1612-1614

Reubens created The Descent From The Cross between 1612 to 1614, as the central panel of a triptych, where it can still be seen in it’s original location the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium.

One of the first things that struck me is that all of the figures in Rubens’ picture are fair skinned. It is highly unlikely that this would have been the case, though the two men, I take to be Joseph of Arimathea’s servants, leaning over the cross bar to Lower Christ’s body, do have that swarthy outdoor look about them.

The next thing that caught my attention is the colour of John’s clothing; red the colour of blood. The robe is very close in colour the the blood on Christ’s body, but this in itself I think is the wrong colour. Blood turns darker, almost brown as it dries.

All the characters in Rubens’ picture appear in one of the gospels, though not all in the same gospel. Nicodemus presence in this scene is only recorded in the gospel of John.

Another aspect of the picture that caught my attention is the title, The Descent From The Cross. Particularly the use of “Descent”.

Descent usually means to move down, fall or drop. What we see in Rubens’ picture is not just descent by moving down, but being taken down, or lowered. A physical act by a group of Jesus’ friends, family and followers, not of his own action.

If we think again of descent in a spiritual, instead of physical sense, it might have a different, allegorical meaning. The Apostles Creed tells us that:

He descended to the dead. (In some versions hell, instead of dead)
On the third day He rose again.

So it is possible that the title was a deliberate choice of words, to indicate that the picture is not solely depicting the physical act of taking Jesus down from he cross, so that he could be entombed.

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Interview With Mary Magdalene

Christ and Mary Magdalene by Rembrandt

Something a little different from me, so I hope you like the audio post that follows this introduction.

As with all my posts, the script is entirely by me. With thanks to my friend Jenny, who provided the voice of Mary Magdalene in the recording.

I present a fictional news interview with Mary Magdalene, set outside Jerusalem on what is now Easter Sunday.

 

Joseph’s Monologue

Hello, are you going into town?

St Joseph by William Dyce (1806–1864)

St Joseph by William Dyce (1806–1864)

Ok, I’ll see you at the inn later, after I’ve taken care of a bit of business.

Later …

Hello again. I’m done now so I can have a goblet of wine before I go home, I reckon I’ve earned it. Grab a seat. (raises voice) Innkeeper, two goblets of wine here please.

I suppose you’ve heard about the census by now, It’s not so bad for you, you were born here in Nazareth but I’ve got to go up to Bethlehem. I’m not looking forward to the journey with that stubborn old donkey of mine and it won’t be easy for Mary in her state. Maybe I should get a younger one for her to ride, especially since she must be due to have the baby soon.

You wouldn’t believe the trouble we’ve had since she fell for the babe; word got round so fast that I’m not the Dad. It’s right of course but come on; in these modern times why does everyone need to make such a big fuss about it. It’s not like she’s a single mum living off charity.

Mind you, the story she told me about how she got pregnant does take some believing. Apparently, this weird stranger in white robe showed up. Just (snaps fingers) and there he is standing right in front of her, next to her cooking fire. She said he was so close to the fire, she didn’t know how his robe didn’t catch alight. Said he didn’t seem to notice the fire, or the heat at all, even though he was right next to it. Anyway this was one evening back in spring, just as it was beginning to get dark.

Actually, just between you and me, I’ve a sneaking suspicion she might have fancied the guy a bit.

I met him too you know, months later though, at least I think I did, although he never actually did tell me his name. Mary told me later he’s called Gabriel but he’d said for her to just call him Gabe. He’s some kind of Holy courier it seems, travelling all over the place delivering messages for his governor. He’s got some quite novel delivery techniques, so you tend not to forget what he tells you.

At supper, on the night Mary met him, not that I knew about it then, she did seem a bit distracted and her eyes were a bit red and puffy. I didn’t say anything because I think she was hoping I wouldn’t notice.

Anyway, soon after Mary met this Gabe character, she goes gallivanting off to visit her relative Elisabeth, up Judea way, and her husband Zechariah. They’ve been childless for years but Mary says she got news that Lizzy and Zec. are going to beget a little addition soon. Says she can go and help, so they don’t need to stump up for a midwife.

Well now, of course, I’m back to cooking for myself again. Still, it wasn’t all bad, no one to nag me when I’m a bit late coming home from making a delivery, and, maybe, dropping into the inn on the way home. And I managed to finish off all sorts of jobs that had been hanging around for a while. Got them all delivered and tucked away and made a nice tidy sum.

She was gone for months you know, visiting with Lizzy & Zec. She didn’t tell me how far Lizzy was along but I’d assumed she must be close, for Mary to traipse up there like that. I only found out when Mary came home that Lizzy was only six months when Mary went to see her.

I said earlier I thought I’d met this Gabe character, well it was a very weird experience. It was in a dream one night; just a few nights after Mary came home. It was only when she came home from Lizzy’s I found out she had a bun in the oven, I was mad enough at her without her giving me some story that she was faithful and having the child of God, through the Holy Spirit. I stormed out and came here to the inn. After I’d calmed down a bit I went home again but I still hardly talked to her for days. Maybe it would have been easier if she’d told me about it sooner, instead of just coming home pregnant.

Anyway, this dream was so real. I can remember the whole thing, as clearly as I see you now. What an ear bashing he gave me, telling me to look after Mary, don’t chuck her out, everything’s going to be ok. Didn’t he go on at me, with that and a whole lot of other stuff too.

I usually give as good as I get when someone takes that attitude, but this time all I could do was stand there gaping. My jaw hit the floor at the first thing he says, because he knows Mary’s going to have a child that not mine and that he told her about it months ago.

Well that might have been a dream but I woke up as soon as he’d gone and hardly slept for the rest of the night. By next morning I had a headache like you wouldn’t believe, without having a hangover either. I went down to the workshop like usual but I couldn’t concentrate on carpentry, so in the end I just went out for a walk. I must’ve gone for miles that day, most of the time without really paying much attention to where I was going.

When it got too hot, with the sun overhead, I managed to find a shady spot to rest in for a while and then I fell asleep. By the time I woke the sun was going down and my headache had gone. Although I wasn’t really in any hurry to get home, I still wanted to see where I was going before it got dark.

By the time I got back it was night and although I couldn’t see much in the gloom, there was no lamplight at home, I knew the house wasn’t empty, Mary was there. I lit a lamp but she was asleep when I went in so I didn’t wake her.

I sat there for ages in the dim, flickering lamplight and as I watcher her sleep my head finally began to sort things out. As I looked at Mary I knew I couldn’t just abandon her, or throw her out like just about everyone would probably say I should; she needed me. And when I realised that, I realised something else too; something the guy in the white robe had been trying to tell me; something I hadn’t seen myself until that moment. I needed Mary too. As much as she needed me, so did I need her.

After that little episode things have got easier, although she still has a hard time when she comes into town. Maybe this census is really a good thing for us, giving us an excuse to get away for a while.…..Oh, look at the time, I’d better get back or she’ll kill me, are you coming this way?

Lost In Translation

Capturing the spirit.

On a visit to the Netherlands, the main reason is unimportant, on my way back to the car ferry at Hoek-Van-Holland, I stopped off in a small town to make an extra visit. That extra visit was important to me, a very special stop on my journey. I was going to visit a Rustplatts. The literal translation would be resting place, but in the UK we would call it a graveyard or cemetery.

I went to pay my respects to a late Dutch friend of many years, whose funeral I had been  unable to attend. That visit was when for the first time I saw the plaque marking her resting place her resting place, and the words inscribed on it:

The Light

I am able ro read a little Dutch but I could not translate “Opgenomen”. I used an on-line translation services to help me understand it. Possible literal translations of “Opgenomen” can be ‘incorporated’ or ‘included’. In English, the phrase would then become ‘Included In The Light’, or ‘Incorporated in the light’. That translation might be accurate, but was perhaps not the intended feeling or spirit of what it means in Dutch, and so its sentiment is not captured in that English translation.

I think a more correct translation in the spirit of what was intended, albeit not a strictly accurate translation in this instance, that conveys the intended meaning might be ‘Joined With the Light’ or ‘One With The Light‘. I favour the latter.

In Biblical terms, the light can refer to heaven and to Jesus Christ, who is The Light Of The World. So an even looser translation, but capturing the spirit might be Gone to Heaven, or Joined with The Lord.

N.B: I welcome comments of readers
who understand both Dutch and English.

Be Careful What You … Revisited.

PrayerAn update to an earlier post.

By chance I came across the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’. It is not a new saying and has been around for a long time. I had heard it before but on this occasion it made me pause and think about it a little bit differently. As a Christian it made me wonder if we perhaps need to:

  • Be careful what you pray for.

In the original post, at this point I had said “I think we do, because I think that God always answers prayers.” I am no longer so sure that is correct. That does not imply that I think he ignores any prayer. I think he listens to every one but chooses not to answer some, which is not the same as ignoring them.

Most of the time, I think he answers in ways we do not expect, or see but is that His fault that we don’t get his answers? Almost certainly not. Probably many times when we don’t see or perceive his answer to a prayer, it is because we do not want to or we are scared it might mean us doing something outside of our comfort zone. It is not that we do not want Him to answer, or that we think he has not but it is because we might not like the answer he gives to us.

When we pray for something that God does not do for us or give to us, he may do something else instead. He gives us the opportunity and the ability to do it for ourselves. Maybe we already have the ability, in this case if we are just too lazy, as sometimes happens, to use it, why should He reply? Or if we pray for something selfish or frivolous, again why should He reply?

He may show us how to achieve something we have prayed for, but that does not mean he will do it for us. It is like a teacher in school showing a child, let’s say, maths. The teacher will show the child how to find the answer to the sum or equation, so he can do another one on his own. He will not just give the answer, which teaches the child nothing. God will almost certainly give us the answer to our prayer but does it in a way that teaches us something and serves His great purpose not ours.

We might look at it like a parent teaching a child to ride a bicycle. At first he just watches, while the child wobbles a bit but can’t fall off because the bike has stabiliser wheels; I had them as a child. Later the stabilisers are removed, and the parent holds the back of the saddle running beside the cycling child, With time the parent’s grip is loosened and eventually let go. Sooner or later will come the inevitable fall off the bike, causing bumps bruises and grazes. Painful and sore but not serious.

Sometimes God will let go of us. It’s not that he doesn’t care, or that he is ignoring us. Like the parent trusting their child and letting go sometimes what seems to be unanswered prayer might be God letting go, trusting us knowing there will be a fall but that is a lesson we, like the child, must learn too.

Sometimes we just do not see His answer because we are looking for it in the wrong place, or because we are not really looking at all or it might be that we do not really care that much about what we prayed about: there are a few lines in the 2003 movie Bruce Almighty that makes this point well:

God (Morgan Freeman) has just given Bruce (Jim Carrey) a rosary of prayer beads:

Bruce:-         What do you want me to do?
 God:-           I want you to pray, son. Go ahead. Use them.
 Bruce:-        Lord, feed the hungry. And … bring peace to all of mankind. How’s that?
 God:-          Great. If you want to be Miss America. Now, come on. What do you really care about?
 Bruce:-        Grace.
 God:-           You want her back?
 Bruce:-        No. I want her to be happy. No matter what that means. I want her to find someone to treat her with all the love that she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone who’ll see her always as I do now through your eyes.

 God:-             Now that’s a prayer.

Bruce finally understood that the answer to his prayer was within his own ability to achieve, but it meant taking a completely unselfish action himself.

Of course some people do not pray at all.

Maybe because they think their prayers will never be answered.
Maybe because they know the answer will require them to do something themselves.
Maybe they do not pray because they think that there is no God.

Or

Maybe they do not pray because …

they are afraid that there is.

Poorer Than Poor

Was Jesus born into and did he live in poverty?

Although the gospels do not say that Jesus was born into poverty, I have heard and read it said and intimated at various times and in various places. Was he born into poverty?

If he was born today, and lived in the conditions he was born then, we probably would think of him as being born in poverty, but what we consider to be poverty now might have been thought relatively well off in Jesus’ time.

Poverty can be defined in various ways and has many aspects. In pure financial terms it was defined in 2015 by the world Bank as less than £1.28 ($1.90 or €1.74) per day to live on. For the purposes of this opinion and it is just that, an opinion, I do not claim it as fact, I define poor as having adequate resources to pay for needs but not wants, and I define poverty as having insufficient resources to meet needs. Jesus’ family were certainly not well off, poor even but in poverty? Maybe not.

We do not know if Mary had resources of her own. She might have had a dowry but from the accounts available to us, it seems unlikely. Nor do we know if Joseph had any money. He did however have a skill, a saleable skill that enabled him to make saleable items and earn a reasonable living to support his family. Joseph was a craftsman, a carpenter by trade which in time he would teach his son.

When the Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, to register in Caesar’s census, it is not suggested that the family was unable to pay for a room to stay in. They had to stay in a stable because all the rooms in town were full, because of the census.

The term “stable” might be generous here. Animal shelter might be a better description. Stable, as we then to think of it now, is kept clean and dry with just horses in. The ‘stable’ in Jesus’ time would probably have been cold, wet, draughty, smelly and dirty, with various kinds of animals. That Jesus was born in a stable would certainly give an impression of poverty, if not considered with the other available evidence.