Apr 21, 2011

Portraiture, Triduum, and Bears, oh, my!

Today marks the beginning of what the liturgical calendar calls the Easter Triduum, or "Three Days," consisting of Maundy Thursday (today), Good Friday, Black Saturday, and Easter Sunday.*

*Wait, Josh! That's four days! Excellent point. The time is counted from the night of Maundy Thursday ("the Mass of the Last Supper") until the night of Easter Sunday, for a total of three days.

Maundy Thursday is one of the most important days in the Christian year, because it was on that night that Jesus held the Last Supper, instructed the disciples on Communion, predicted Peter's denial, washed the disciples' feet, prayed in Gethsemane, and was betrayed and arrested.

The story of this night has always been very significant to me for two reasons: the institution of the Eucharist and the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane.

The Eucharist is a deeply mystical event. 'This is my body. This is my blood. Take, eat and drink.' With this act, the faithful enter into specific communion with God in physical form through consumption of his very flesh and blood (or representations thereof). Through it, we thank all the persons of God for the sacrifices: becoming flesh, dying as an atonement for sin, and indwelling on the Earth. I can't comprehend what any of this really means, but I understand the depth of its meaning. I guess that's what makes it mystical.

Anyway, I've been wanting to practice oil painting for some time, and portraiture in particular. And the effects of dramatic lighting. So, I decided to combine all these things. It being Holy Week and all, I decided to do a portrait of Jesus. I both am happy to have done it because of the long history of beautiful Christian art and totally disgusted with myself for having potentially joined the legions of terrible Christian kitsch. Whatever.

It's a portrait (unfinished!) of Jesus breaking the bread.

So, there you go.


The other fascination of Maundy Thursday for me is in Gethsemane, and Christ's prayer in the garden. I'll let C.S. Lewis do my speaking:

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don't agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ. For the beginning of the Passion--the first move, so to speak--is in Gethsemane. In Gethsemane a very strange and significant thing seems to have happened.

It is clear from many of His sayings that Our Lord had long foreseen His death. He knew what conduct such as His, in a world such as we have made of this, must inevitably lead to. But it is clear that this knowledge must somehow have been withdrawn from Him before He prayed in Gethsemane. He could not, with whatever reservation about the Father's will, have prayed that the cup might pass and simultaneously known that it would not. That is both a logical and a psychological impossibility. You see what this involves? Lest any trial incident to humanity should be lacking, the torments of hope--of suspense, anxiety--were at the last moment loosed upon Him--the supposed possibility that, after all, He might, He just conceivably might, be spared the supreme horror. There was precedent. Isaac had been spared: he too at the last moment, he also against all apparent probability. It was not quite impossible...and doubtless He had seen other men crucified...a sight very unlike most of our religious pictures and images.

But for this last (and erroneous) hope against hope, and the consequent tumult of the soul, the sweat of blood, perhaps He would not have been very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man.


We all try to accept with some sort of submission our afflictions when they actually arrive. But the prayer in Gethsemane shows that the preceding anxiety is equally God's will and equally part of our human destiny. The perfect Man experienced it. And the servant is not greater than the master. We are Christians, not Stoics.


As for the last dereliction of all, how can we either understand or endure it? Is it that God Himself cannot be Man unless God seems to vanish at His greatest need? And if so, why? I sometimes wonder if we have even begun to understand what is involved in the very concept of creation. If God will create, He will make something to be, and yet to be not Himself. To be created is, in some sense, to be ejected or separated. Can it be that the more perfect the creature is, the further this separation must at some point be pushed? It is saints, not common people, who experience the 'dark night.' It is men and angels, not beasts, who rebel. Inanimate matter sleeps in the bosom of the Father. The 'hiddenness' of God perhaps presses most painfully on those who are in another way nearest to Him, and therefore God Himself, made man, will of all men be by God most forsaken?

-Letters to Malcom, 1964

No comments: