This Sunday, many will be singing, He is risen!! Happy Easter to all!
A few years ago, I wanted to create something memorable for Easter, but how can an artist create a painting that is only for one day of the year? After all, salvation is the gift from God that keeps on giving, and we can celebrate that every day of the year, not just on Easter. The finished painting is very stylized – I combined elements from contemporary art and some very ancient mosaics from early Christianity.
The painting was on display that year for Easter Sunday, and I was asked to explain what all the symbolism means, because there’s so much that can be missed. I always tend to pack a lot of meaning into my writing and my art, so I’ll try to bring it all together in a way that can be understood without too much theology. If I have missed any explanation, please let me know by commenting below.
Now, where to begin? . . .
Let’s start at the top of the painting. An ancient water jug is being held and poured (by unseen divine hands) into a chalice, where the water has turned into new wine (the bread sits beside the cup). This might remind you of the first sign that Jesus performed when he turned water into wine. In addition, near the end of his life, Jesus shared the cup (of wine) and bread with his disciples and he told them to continue to do this in remembrance of him. This practice is continued through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and believers also look forward to the day when they will share in the wedding feast of the Lamb after the Lord’s return, when they will drink the new wine that he promised.
Reaching up through the inside of the cross is a tree (which looks more like a vine, but that’s okay if one thinks of John 15, where Jesus called himself the true Vine, and says that if we want to bear fruit, then we must remain in him). It was intended at first to be a tree to remind us that the cross is made from a tree, since it was prophesied that the Christ would be hung (put to death) on a tree like a criminal, even though he was innocent. It also represents the tree of life. The roots of the tree are shown to remind us that we need to become rooted and grow deeper in the faith. It is fitting that the anchor is with the roots, because Christ is the anchor who holds believers steady and firm in the storms of life (much like having deeper roots would keep us steady and firm). When believers depend on him, their faith becomes steadier in the process.
Now, for the center circle. There are three main spirals in gold which represent the Trinity. The center is yellow like the sun, the brightest thing we have seen, and yet, God’s glory is even brighter than the sun. The spirals in the center and the ropework, or braiding, in the outer circle are Celtic motifs (mainly from Ireland – my ancestry). Notice that the braid is a three-stranded cord and it has no end, again pointing to the Trinity and that God is eternal. (A friend also mentioned the meaning from Ecclesiastes 4:12 – Yes, there is meaning in art for the viewer which even the artist does not intend, but it is meaning all the same!)
Okay, so now, what is going on with the scene that the cross is overlapping? There are two cliffs on either side, between which is a chasm, and the cross is the bridge from one side to the other. What Jesus did on the cross has made it possible for us to turn from sin and accept His invitation to new life. He draws us to Himself, and we can come to him in confession and repentance to receive forgiveness for all our sins. He only needed to accomplish it once, and on the cross he did it – once, and for ALL. It’s our turn to respond, and to do so before it’s too late. Our response is to praise him, offering a public profession of our faith, which includes baptism.
Just as Jesus was resurrected with a new body, so also will believers be resurrected one day with a new body, but only because of what he has done. Believers receive a foretaste of a future resurrection when they are baptized, as it is written in Romans 6:4 (also on the painting): “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” In other words, baptized believers are buried in their sin, by the water of baptism, but they are raised as they emerge from the water into the new life of a Christ follower. This is another sacrament through which Christians celebrate what Christ has done and profess love for him publicly.
Some other symbols surround the cross: The Holy Spirit is depicted in the form of a dove, and the fire also symbolizes the presence of God’s Spirit residing within the believer (just as on the day of Pentecost). The Holy Spirit is the Helper who Jesus promised He would send when He returned to the Father. And he (the Spirit) is present with each and every believer everywhere on Earth. He sanctifies believers for the work of the Church, and he does so much more work in believers than I can describe here.
One of the fish in the water is an early Christian symbol of a Christ follower – the Greek letters spell out the word “Ichthus,” which means “fish,” but it is an early acronym to proclaim: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour (in the Greek: “Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ”; or when transliterated: Iēsous Christos, Theou Huios, Sōtēr).
The scroll represents the Word of God and was the early form of the Bible (before bounded books with individual pages). On the scroll are the letters Alpha and Omega, another of the many names of Christ found in the book of Revelation, referring to him being the beginning and the end, just as Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Alpha and Omega also refers to Jesus being creator of all things within time, and the author and finisher of our faith. The Bible itself is a precious gift from God to humankind, since it is “special revelation” of His plan for all people everywhere and of His provision of a Redeemer/Saviour.
And full circle back to the top right where we look to the clouds, for that is where the gospels leave off… this is where we will see Christ’s return in glory! While that time is appointed by God, it is unknown to us, but believers are warned to be ready, not to be anxious or afraid, and to stand firm to the end, trusting in God’s faithfulness throughout time.
If you would like to see this painting in my online gallery, find it here.