Friday, November 2, 2018

Before the Rainbow

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Because most of the projects in which I involve myself take great quantities of time, I am often confronted with various aspects of Christianity for long periods – even the most mundane of details. I may spend hours painting the lips of Christ, for example, or spend the same amount of time looking into His eyes. I may labor, with great intimacy, over individual wounds He suffered. I may be forced to look at the pebbly ground on which He walked.

I could argue that I know all this already; that my imagination is enough to know what Scripture has told me. But thinking this way would make me a fool. I know myself well enough to know that I can never look closely enough or long enough at the brutal facts of my condition and the Love that undid it all.

I am now well into a project commissioned by Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hankinson, N.D. The piece is to be a Baptismal triptych that will provide a backdrop for the church’s Baptismal font. The theme is Martin Luther’s ‘Flood Prayer,’ and its words will be an integral part of the painting.

The painting will not only be visually heavy on the Word, but also water. Forget visions, however, of Monet’s placid pond or Seurat’s ‘Sunday Afternoon.’ The water depicted in this piece is none of that. It is awesome and frightful and even scary. It pours down unmercifully. It rises vertically. It is poised with unmistakable power. And it kills.

Too often have we glossed over reality in preference of an innocent and inoffensive version of the truth. There are probably more cartoon characters of Noah and Mrs. Noah with giraffes, two-by-two, then there are of drowning hoards. Rainbows rule, if only to show God’s mercy. Visions of Divine justice, however, have somehow been eliminated for the “G” crowd.

This triptych will hopefully change that. The sky above the ark is boiling with Divine anger. There is no escape for the subjects of God’s wrathful flood.

So, too, the triptych’s depiction of the crossing of the Red Sea. The waters rise vertically, piling up in wait for the coming Egyptians. We might even feel sorry for Pharaoh’s host, were it not for the hardening of his heart that is so reminiscent of a child’s tantrum – ignoring every bit of undeniably-destructive reality placed before him in favor of his own stubborn folly.

Placed between the flood and the crossing of the Red Sea is a depiction of our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River. While the river’s waters may seem gentle enough, they belie what Christ Jesus accomplished in this by fulfilling Scripture. The waters that even Naaman criticized as being less than worthy heap the sin of the world on this Sinless One.

All this is to make us sober in approaching the Baptismal font. In it, the Lord does not simply give us a dedication kiss. He doesn't give a slap on the wrist for offenses with a lick and a promise. Neither does He take us over His knee to rid us of our shame, nor does He give us a good thrashing to rid us of our sin. The saving waters of Holy Baptism kill us. The old Adam, being rotten to the core, is drowned. We are dead as door nails, buried with Christ in His own death. But, we are not left to rot. Thanks be to God, we are raised to a new life in Christ Jesus through His resurrection. And we are made His heirs.

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