Monday, October 24, 2022

The All Saints Nativity and Resurrection Paintings

© Copyright Edward Riojas

What follows is an explanation of two paintings recently delivered – and soon to be installed – at All Saints Lutheran Church, Charlotte, NC. The congregation is well into the process of taking an existing, protestant, white box and repurposing it as a confessional Lutheran sanctuary. The focus will be a custom carved crucifix that is currently being created in an Italian sculpture studio.


© Copyright Edward Riojas.
Images may not be reproduced for any purpose.

The oil-on-wood paintings were meant not merely to act as parentheses to a central Crucifix, but to more fully explain Who this was that was once crucified. In essence, they confess that Jesus Christ is true Man and true God.

The left-hand panel depicts the Nativity of our Lord. Joseph looks out at the viewer. His gaze makes use of an old artistic device that “pulls” the viewer into the painting; it breaks the visual plane and includes us in this otherwise intimate and exclusive moment in time.

Traditionally, Joseph holds a burning candle to show that he literally carried the Light of the World. He is also traditionally depicted sleeping to show that he was given instructions through dreams. Unfortunately, he may be shown doing both (gasp!): Holding a burning candle while sleeping. I have avoided that pitfall, and have therefore kept him wide awake. The candle has been replaced with a lit lantern, and it was very intentional that the ironwork of the lantern was transformed into a conspicuous cross. The light it gives far outshines even the star which eventually drew the magi to this King.

Following a more probable scenario, a stone manger rests firmly in the foreground of the left-hand painting. European depictions typically show a wooden manger, but lumber was a more precious commodity in Bible lands and was reserved for more noble uses.  In the Nativity, God became incarnate; there, He dwelt with us. But "the sign" given by the angels was a decidedly morbid one. The swaddling cloths and the stone manger pointed forward to an embalmed body in a sarcophagus, an all-too-soon burial, and a dead God.

The manger is inscribed with, “CHRISTUS REX” (“Christ the King”) and beneath that is “IHS,” an abbreviation for “Jesus,” which is prophetically circumscribed with a crown of thorns.

In the right-hand painting, a similar visual device is depicted: An empty ossuary serves as a footrest for the resurrected Christ. The God-Man was dead, but is never to be dead again. It was the practice in the Biblical world to first bury a body in a tomb, and then later transfer the decayed bones to a much smaller ossuary. Without having a corrupted body, there was hardly a point to the tomb, and certainly no point to using an ossuary for His skeletal remains.

The Resurrected Christ looks at us with a reassuring gaze. His head is surrounded by a tri-radiant nimbus to show that He is a Person of the Holy Trinity; that He is True God. Jesus holds a cross-emblazed banner, in traditional fashion, to show that He has proclaimed victory over Hell. The stone, the seal, and the tomb are all in vain. The empty ossuary is inscribed with “CHRISTUS VICTOR” (“Christ the Victor”) under which is a “Chi-Rho,” an abbreviation for “Christ,” circumscribed with a victorious laurel wreath.

Satan is defeated and crushed under the foot of Christ. Satan is undone. Even his fangs lie at the foot of the ossuary.

And in case we may still wonder if this Hebrew Messiah gave His life for us undeserving goyim, a special tree is planted in that blessed garden – one into which we have been grafted. The life of Jesus Christ, once given on a far different tree, now nourishes us, His adopted children.