Sacred Seeing: The Crucifixion

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

The Crucifixion

Crucifixion fresco, Silvestro Pistolesi, Church of the Transfiguration

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is the general feeling you get from this fresco?
What questions does this image raise for you?

Read the Scripture: John 19:25-34
25 Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Jesus’ Side Is Pierced

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.

THE INSTITUTION OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the[b]covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
What details do you see in this image? Choose one, and spend some time prayerfully considering its meaning.

Consider the stark contrast between light and dark in this fresco. What is the artist saying?

What does the position of Jesus’ body say to you?

Often, the two thieves are pictured side-by-side with Jesus, but in this fresco they are some distance away, and with their backs to the viewer. We cannot make our their faces. Consider what meaning this might have.

In the image, and according to John’s record, there are four people at Jesus’ feet. By what you see in the fresco, what is each one of them feeling and thinking? Now, imagine yourself as one of them. Which one would you be? Why?

Jesus said, “It is finished.” What has God done in your life that remains unfinished? What is finished?

Prayer
Lord, once you asked if I would value – in the way of your cross – and I said, (how, I do not know,) “Yes, I will.” You knew then how my heart would faint and my will with falter, once I followed you this far, once we got to this awful hill. Here, where darkness gathers, and the birds start to circle, and the Father’s voice falls silent, you bend. You look at me. Now you ask again, if I will follow you – in the way of my cross – and I say, (how, I do not know,) “Yes, your will.”

We are adore you, O Christ,
And we praise you,
For by your holy cross,
You have redeemed of the world.

A Word from the Tradition
What God promises us for the future is great, but what God has already done for us in Christ is greater still. Who can doubt that he will give us his life, since he has already given us his death? Why is human weakness so slow to believe that we will one day live with God? After all, a much more incredible thing has already happened: God died for us. –From a sermon by Augustine (354–430)

Image: © The Crucifixion by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

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