A painting of the crucifixion by Craigie Aitchison hangs in my office here at the Centre for Faith Enrichment. As Easter approaches, I’d like to share with you the reflection by Sister Wendy Beckett that drew me to the painting, and also a video-clip by Bishop Robert Barron which further explores the meaning of the crucifixion.
The crucifixion is the great Christian emblem. It marks out the presence of a church, it hangs on the walls of Christian homes, it is printed on prayer books, it is held to the heart of the dying and needy and believers generally. In art, the tendency is often to make very vivid the terrible suffering so willingly undergone for our sake.
There are a few crucifixions that stress the inner truth of this death. Shortly before he died, Craigie Aitchison painted this most extraordinary of crucifixions. The earth has become desert, yet from the desert Jesus is drawing new life, the scarlet of a poppy. The very presence of the cross has already created a strip of living green against which we can make out the tremulous figure of an animal, Aitchison’s beloved Bedlington dog.
But above these regulated strips of land, into the immense darkness of the night of our evil, soars Christ on the cross, a luminous body blazing with the fire of love. His features are consumed in the intensity of his passionate sacrifice. Over his head hovers the outline of the Holy Spirit. There are stars in the sky catching fire from the fire of Jesus, and we see the great curve of the rainbow, which God promised would be a sign of his covenant with humankind. Aitchison is showing us not what the crucifixion looked like, but what it truly meant.
Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy’s Bible Treasury, 199
Bishop Robert Barron offers more thoughts into the crucifixion in this short video – “Why Did Jesus Have to Die the Way He Did?”. It’s well worth watching.