A response from Lyndon (here) to what I wrote a few days ago about Religion, caused me to go back and look at a piece of art and Christian history that I have loved: The Isenheim Altarpiece:
Painted in about 1515 by Matthias Grunewald, the three part work sits on top of a painted altar. There is much to learn and understand about the painter and this piece and Wikipedia is a far better place to begin more research than here. But, I want to look specifically at the middle section and even more specifically at the body of Christ, as Grunewald depicted it.
The Isenheim Altarpiece was to be placed in the chapel of a sanitarium where patients with skin diseases were hospitalized. Grunewald painted this Christ as a suffering, contorted being with terrible lesions all over his body. Here was a Christ with whom the people of Isenheim could relate. This was a Jesus who was like them, suffered like them, and- they believed- died for them.
This was a Jesus with scars. This was a Jesus who died alone, unappreciated, unloved, shunned. This was a Jesus who who screamed in pain before he died. And amazingly, John the Baptist was painted to the right of the cross, pointing to Jesus and saying, “He must increase: I must decrease.” This was a suffering Christ, but a Christ who, according to the Baptist, should, could, and must be emulated.
So who is looking for this sacrificing Jesus today? Who is following this injured,bleeding, lashed and slashed Jesus anywhere? I turn the TV on and hear preachers talking about gay marriage and supporting Israel’s onslaught of Palestine. I read sermons extolling the virtues of teenage abstinence, the necessity of keeping “God” on coins, and laments about some clerk at Walmart who says “Happy Holiday.”
I watch “Christians” fussing at each other over the age of the earth, and the importance of using the right language regarding abortion (while doing nothing about it). I see clean, unbruised, never scarred church goers tsk-tsking over Sally’s bare shoulders, Timmy’s cruddy-looking tennis shoes, and..”Have you seen Bob with that new friend of his-Bill?”
Meanwhile, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are being pummeled by Israel with nary a whisper of protest from American Christians. Most of the world’s children end each day hungry. There are more slaves in the world than at any time in history. We (US) are spending $12 billion a month to fight a war over..what? I’ve forgotten. The high school drop out rate is higher than ever. We are the most incarcerating country on earth. And we (Christians) actually send money- lots of it!- to scriptural pimps who promise if we send more money to them, we can have bigger houses, shinier cars, better clothes, no cancer, great kids, vacations on Christian cruise ships, to Christian hotels, near Christian theme parks, after stopping at the mall to buy Christian CDs, Christian knick-knacks, bumper stickers, and jewelry, so that atheists and Muslims and Democrats and lesbians will know- without a doubt!- where we stand on the issues!
Unless the church begins to bleed, it will die. He must increase; we, fat and healthy and happy and lazy, must decrease.