Rev. Phil Schmidt, a retired pastor and member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Frankfurt shared the following article with us about a slide presentation held at Trinity on April 12. Rev. Schmidt presented works of art for the attendees with themes related to Good Friday. Due to copyright policies, we are not able to run pictures of all the works of art discussed that day, but Rev. Schmidt graciously offered two beautiful pieces of his own for us to include. Enjoy this article and the beautiful paintings!
The sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross is one of the foundations of Christian faith. On the one hand, what happened on Golgotha can be expressed with the simple affirmation: Jesus died for us. But this affirmation points to an immeasurable mystery, because the events of Good Friday are so incredibly rich in theological content, symbolism, irony and impact that the heart and mind cannot begin to grasp the full meaning of Jesus’ death. Biblical interpretation has discovered at least 20 images/explanations of what happened on Good Friday.
One way to approach the mystery of Good Friday is through works of art which depict Biblical events. The story of Good Friday begins in the Old Testament, and events in the life of Jesus help to interpret His death. Good Friday was the culmination of themes which began over a thousand years before Jesus and continued into His life and teaching.
In a small-group setting we looked at and discussed some of the Biblical events which help one to understand Golgotha, for example, the Burning Thorn Bush, the Passover Lamb, Moses striking the rock at Meriba and the Scapegoat of the Day of Atonement. These Old Testament prototypes reveal a pattern: God in His mercy enters into human suffering and death in order to transform it from within.
Here are two examples of the type of content we examined on the afternoon of April 12:
The burning thorn bush
God appeared to Moses in a burning thorn bush, which was not consumed by the flames. Why did God choose thorns as a place of revelation? When Adam and Eve brought deadly alienation from God upon themselves, creation suffered a curse, which became visible in thorns and thistles growing out of the ground. Thorns represent curse (hopeless separation from God). By choosing to reveal Himself among thorns, God entered into humanity’s cursed situation, in order to transform curse into blessing by His presence. Is it a coincidence that Jesus wore a crown of thorns on the cross? Could the message of the crown of thorns be: here is God Himself, entering again into cursedness in order to demonstrate His love and solidarity with suffering humanity, in order to transform curse into blessing with His presence?
When Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt, they began a desert sojourn which would last 40 years. This sojourn began with a potentially lethal rebellion at Meriba (which means “Complaint”). The Israelites were dying of thirst and they accused Moses of leading them into certain death. Their wrath was actually directed against God. They were on the verge of stoning Moses to death in order to attack and repudiate the God who had freed them. In this desperate situation, God spoke to Moses at the foot of Mount Horeb (Sinai). He told Moses to take the rod which he had used in Egypt to execute divine judgment (such as when he struck the water of the Nile and it turned into blood). God said to Moses that He would descend upon the rock surface of Horeb and “stand before” Moses. This is an incredible situation. God placed Himself in the role of accused defendant who “stands before” his judge. Moses was to assume the role of judge and executioner. Moses was to strike the rock upon which God was present. In effect, Moses was thrashing God Himself. The result was that life-saving water came out of the rock. This incident answered the question which Israel had posed at the beginning of this episode: “Is the Lord among us or not?” Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10, identified this water-giving rock with Christ. Christian tradition has seen in this incident a preview of what happened when Jesus was pierced by a spear after His death on the cross: water and blood came out of His side.
The incident at Meriba illustrates themes which found their culmination on Golgotha:
- Alienation from God expresses itself as lethal aggression against fellow human beings
- It is not God who is antagonistic to mankind; mankind is antagonistic to God. God does not need to be reconciled to people; people need to be reconciled to God. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2. Cor. 5, 15)
- God will apparently do anything to overcome alienation and restore fellowship. He is ready to humiliate Himself and assume the role of the condemned in order to defuse hostility and bridge the gap between Himself and an aggressive humanity.
These 2 examples give a small taste of the images we looked at and the themes we discussed .
The focal point of this color-slide presentation was the love of God which was revealed on Good Friday, a divine love which knows no bounds, a love which forgives a crucifixion, thus illuminating how unlimited it is, a love which enters into the abyss of agonizing death, in order to transform evil into good, injustice into justice, death into life. Works of art, whether paintings or music, can help us to appreciate this infinite self-giving love.
- Rev. Phil Schmidt is a retired minister of the Evangelische Kirche in Hessen und Nassau.
- Learn more about Trinity Lutheran Church, Frankfurt.
- Pray for those who attended the class, that the reflection on the events of Good Friday would strengthen them in the faith.