Thursday, 31 May 2012

The image of Christ

© Godric Godricson
I’ve been very busy recently in relation to this blog and I’ve had the opportunity to visit a lot of beautiful Churches in Norfolk. The sites are invariably ancient and replete with sculpture. In fact, many Churches are often little more than funerary parks full of genealogy and history on the walls and set in to the floors. The image of Christ repeated in artefacts and wall paintings has become an object of fascination. It becomes quite clear that medieval man and more recent ancestors saw something of comfort in the image of a crucified Christ that is often depressing by contemporary standards.

The image of Christ on the cross is enormously powerful and something that is well understood in the West. However  gruesome the idea of crucifixion is to modern man the image is fixed in our consciousness and in Latin art. We have seen in an earlier posting how the Orthodox have dealt with the  matter of blood and death whilst in the West we are a little too literal and fixated on blood and gore.

Resurrection theology is intended to counter the effect of an all too evident and prevalent human death. The image of Christ on the cross is intended to be powerful enough to give strength,  encouragement and hopein the face of the negative effect of death.  Death and burial separates a person from their body which is taken away to a separate place and left to decompose in either the vault or in the soil. This separation from friends and family is personally and intellectually painful and despite the occasional burial of the body within the domestic setting we find that humanity has usually felt the need to serapate the living and the dead.

© Godric Godricson

Death  geographically separates us from our loved ones in a very real way although the monuments often say “loving wife” or something about a wonderful husband. Inevitably, though the death of a loved one always says something about physical and emotional separation from the old world and an entry into the great (other) world beyond. The image of Christ is a sort of talisman and the cross is a sort of ticket that mystically admits humanity onto the other side and into the Kingdom of Heaven. Serene and with all pain erased from the image, the crucified Christ is no longer Jesus the man. Instead, the serene image is divine rather than human. Paul often indicates the next world is the best world and earlier postings indicate how this can be a problem. Death also points to the futility of life and Christ is said to give meaning to life. The calm, cool and untouchable Christ hangs there for all eternity robbed of humanity as he waits for the souls of the departed. Death that brings an end to human fellowship is to be endured and even embraced as we are encouraged to transit from this world to the next. Christian imagery all to often tries to apologise for the harshness of this age and facilitate a move to the other side.

The image of Christ hangs there as a hope and as an expectation for the future. The emaciated and torn flesh that sometimes reflects human existence has become somehow sublime and unattainable. The separation of humanity from God is ‘threatened’ if we move away from the image. Death becomes very real if we move aside from Christ and for medieval man, the presence of the Cross became a totemic image that would make a falseness out of death.

I am always impressed by the way in which the image of Christ in a symbol of victory over death and the decay of the body "Death is swallowed up in victory. "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. -57). The image of Christ is intended to reassure humanity that the separation caused by death is not permanent for believers in Christ. The promise of meeting again is given as a sort of corporate reunion.

© Godric Godricson

The modern world has largely lost religious belief and Christ is no longer the celestial talisman that protects, saves and transforms. The mystical pass to the other world was the cross although  that cross now serves as reassurance to fewer and fewer people. Despite this falling away of Christians in society the Churches continue to hold their power as cultic centres. Churches remain as centres of ancestor worship and as a site for funerary art.

Serving many purposes; the Church is full of power on a number of levels although sometimes the most powerful image is a simple image of Christ in a little parish Church hidden away in Norfolk.

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