April 9, 2009
The New Testament reports the many times that the Risen Lord appears to his disciples. Nonetheless, neither friend nor foe actually witnessed the very moment when Jesus was taken up into heavenly glory. Believers and non-believers saw the empty tomb. Yet, no one saw Jesus rise from the dead. The Resurrection is a fact that transcends history.
In his painting
“The Resurrection of Christ,” the 15
th century artist Giovanni Dal Ponte tries to picture for us that moment when “
Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father...” (Rm 6:4).
The dazzling bright gold symbolizes the eternal uncreated light of divinity. The gold light envelops the Risen Lord, for in the Resurrection, the divinity of the Son of God totally transforms the humanity of Jesus. According to an ancient confession of faith embedded in the writings of Paul, Jesus, “
descended from David according to the flesh [is] established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead…” (Rm 1:3-4).
The Risen Lord carries the victory banner. He has triumphed over sin and death itself. “
Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him” (Rm 6:9). The tomb is empty. “
Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:55). All those forces that drag us down have no power over us. Christ lives!
The hands and feet of the Risen Lord still bear the red wounds of the Cross. This is no spirit or hallucination. This is Jesus, who had been crucified, now risen. The body has not been cast aside, but taken up. There is continuity between this world and the next. Creation is being made anew.
The small tree in the background already shows signs of change. The world is being re-created through the power of the Resurrection. However, like the soldiers present at the tomb, we do not fully grasp the power of the Resurrection at work in our world.
The artist depicts the actual moment of the resurrection as a moment of tension. Jesus is taken up in a dramatic burst of divine activity. His twisted body is caught in the upward movement to heaven. Yet, even as he is being raised up, Jesus intently focuses his eyes on this world. He extends his hand toward earth in a gesture that imparts divine power to those who believe in him.
With this artistic tension, the painter expresses the closing words of Mark’s gospel: “
The Lord Jesus…was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs” (Mk 16:19-20).
The Risen Lord is not taken away from us. He remains with us. He works in us. He dwells in us. He gives us even now a share in his divine life.
Here is the hope of our Easter faith. Even when the world faces so many challenges, we are joyful, for God is “reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor 5:15). He is accomplishing this work through us who believe.
May the Risen Lord fill your hearts with the joy of his presence so that your faith grows strong and your hope secure.
+ Arthur J. Serratelli