Was Crucified, Died, and Buried

Reading: Was crucified, died, and buried (The Apostles’ Creed), Isaiah 53,5

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…

Reflection: “This image could make a man lose his faith!” Count Myshkin’s comment in Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” perfectly describes the spiritual state that prolonged contemplation of the masterpiece of the great Hans Holbein the Younger produces. If anyone could have thought there was something special, or even divine, in this figure that was crucified and died in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, this scene would dispel any doubt. Holbein did not paint a sentimental version of the dead Christ whose body miraculously radiates on the cross despite the darkness. This is not the Christ who tells us, “Don’t worry, (you know the story), I will soon rise again.” Holbein does not give us a grotesque, exaggerated picture of the tortured Christ, similar to that in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion,” which seems to suggest that some hidden reason and meaning must be behind such brutality.

Holbein paints a corpse in a tomb. He paints the moment of the cessation of human existence, which every person who lived before us has experienced and which every one of us will experience. It is the moment when you are inaugurated into the past, and when your image begins to inevitably fade, barely staying alive as long as those who remember you are alive (Barth). We are petrified in front of this painting that evokes the cramped space of the tomb, its coldness and darkness, the heavy top slab that does not let the stale air, which already smells of the beginning of the process of decay, out, and whose weight we can almost feel. This is the atmosphere that the tomb provides, and it does not bother the dead at all because everything that they were is now going into nothingness. Perspective, a tool in the hands of an artist that serves to depict reality, seems to have expelled the divine – says one author – clearly delineating the lines of the tomb (Gatrall). Nothing can enter this space anymore, nor can anything leave it.

There are no people in this lonely place anymore, and there are none in the picture to mourn the dead as in, some, other painters’ works. The possibility that the presence of people, even the closest ones, makes any difference is rejected. To them, as if Holbein (or death itself) forbids to be present.

The weight of the crucifixion, the fullness of the curse it brings, is inexorably revealed in this picture. It’s the exclusion, not only from the Book of the Living but also from the Book of the Elected, “for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'” (Gal 3:13). Death, as a sentence hanging over the head of every person, is experienced in its most triumphant form when looking at the dead body of Christ. If the best of us could not escape it, what are our chances? The grave, with all its horrific qualities, which, like a magnet, attracts our bodies day by day, and whose forces, whatever we do, we cannot resist, is waiting for each one of us.

Only one detail in Holbein’s painting leaves room for the possibility that the painting represents something more. Christ’s open eyes and mouth, which are realistically depicted signs of rigor mortis, can, in the imaginative observer’s eyes, appear as the moment of the first deep breath, the kind we unconsciously take after a nightmare-filled deep sleep.

It has long been known that the Christian faith is not a faith in immortality but in the resurrection. Such a faith, in its expression, also accepts and passes through the tragedy of death, For we died and were buried with Christ – says apostle Paul in his most famous letter to the Roman church (Romans 6,4)

Take a moment to think about your transience. In light of this reality, do you need to make any corrections in your life? How about relationships with those with whom you spend the most time, your children, family, and friends? Do you need to revisit your attitude in relation to your career? Finally, it is difficult to avoid the most important question: do you need to change your attitude towards the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life! Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live”

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he was seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Posted in Daily devotionals.