Friday, December 1, 2017

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

In every communicative endeavor there are two parties involved. This is true of art. An audience does not benefit anything unless something is first produced, and the work of authors, artists and musicians is for naught unless there is an audience.

I was recently blessed in creating an image of the risen Christ behind the altar in a local church. Working on-site allowed occasional conversations with the pastor, and at several points Rev. David Rufner and I discussed the visage of Christ Jesus.

As an artist and creator of what must necessarily be an idealized image of Christ’s face, there is but one opportunity to render an appropriate likeness, and much thought and effort goes into its execution. For some scenarios – Jesus praying in Gethsemene, for example – it is fairly straightforward; simply show an anguished face dripping with sweaty blood. Well, okay, it is somewhat straightforward. In other scenarios it is not simple at all.

An artist is often torn between showing a just God and a loving God. There are Orthodox icons that attempt to show this very thing simultaneously and fail miserably in the attempt. A resurrected Christ, in similar manner, should show deep joy in being crucified for our benefit, but a toothy grin is simply wrong. The degree of expression becomes critical.

The viewer, too, is faced with a dilemma of equal importance. Like the goyim who approached Philip as recorded in John 12, we desire to see Jesus, but our expectations are rarely in tune with reality, and therein lies all manner of problems.
Detail of "Resurrected Christ"
Edward Riojas. 2017.
(New Hope Lutheran Church, Hudsonville, Mich.)
Copyright © Edward Riojas. Image may not be
reproduced for any purpose.

When St. John the Forerunner was in prison and wanted to definitively know about Jesus, the latter sent a message to John describing miraculous fulfillment of prophesies. Jesus then added the somewhat odd, “...Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Later in the same Gospel account, Jesus preaches about John, and asks some very pointed questions of his audience.

““What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see?””

John was indeed a prophet, but Jesus, in His role as Prophet, could have asked the pointed questions of Himself. We wish to see Jesus, but what do we go out to see? What do we expect to see? When confronted by the reality of Christ, does jealousy ensue as in the case of the Pharisees, or does awe manifest itself as in Peter’s confession?

In the case of the Resurrected Christ I painted for New Hope Lutheran Church, I am thankful that the image is not so crucial as the reality behind which it stands. How appropriate that my artwork, no matter how adequate, is but a pale shadow compared to the reality of Christ’s body and blood on the altar of the Lord. There is what the faithful come to see, and not only see, but to “Taste and see and the Lord is good.” Many might take offence. Others might content themselves with seeing a reed shaken by the wind – or less.

Not by our own determination or righteous resolve, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, are we brought to the portals of the sanctuary and humbly inquire, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

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