Arts & Faith: Good Friday III


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Andrea Mantegna, “The Dead Christ (Lamentation of Christ),” 1475–1478

Arts and Faith: Lent

Andrea Mantegna’s The Dead Christ invites us to contemplate Christ’s broken body and to stand at his feet as his body is laid out in preparation for his entombment. Contemplating this image is an intense experience. We see the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet up close, but this does not have a gory effect. Instead we feel the utter exhaustion and emptying of oneself that we read on Christ’s face, and we are faced with the fact that he has given us all he had.

To the left, two mourning faces enter into the scene. Both faces are twisted in pain, weeping for Jesus. One, an older woman, could be Mary, his mother. The other, a younger man, possibly represents the Beloved Disciple. The two figures stand as symbols of the Christian community, the Church, which stands at the Cross on this day to once again come face to face with the reality of Christ’s ultimate self-gift. Their tears are ones of sorrow, loss, brokenness, and defeat, a fitting reaction to the dead Jesus. But the tears also remind us of the reason for Christ’s sacrifice: to undo the bondage of sin and ultimately set us free from human suffering.

A distinctive feature of this image is the foreshortened, vertical form of Christ’s body, which we see from foot first. Foot first means seeing the part of his body that was closest to the ground, nearest the dirt, rocks, and thorns of life’s path. This perspective emphasizes the full human experience Jesus lived and endured, even the unjust and violent Death that took all he had. Seeing the feet this way also recalls his teaching to serve, his call to do as he had done in washing the feet of his followers. Showing the feet of the dead Christ calls us to recognize the gift of service seen to its ultimate end of laying down one’s life for another. Standing at the feet of Christ, we are exactly where we are called to be.

Daniella Zsupan-Jerome

Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, director of ministerial formation at Saint John's University School of Theology and Seminary.

Related Ignatian reflection on this week’s art

I Was There

The Art of Teaching

In the Year in Our Church section of Finding God, Grade 7, young people learn about and reflect on Holy Week and the events that led to Jesus’ Death on the Cross for our sins. Have young people illustrate the story of Peter denying his friendship with Jesus. Encourage young people to include themselves as part of the crowd in the scene. Invite young people to render the scene in a surprising or creative way. For example, they might set the scene in a contemporary context or develop a slide-show presentation with reflective music.

While young people are working, say: Think about the position Peter is in. His friend has been arrested and faces harsh punishment. People start pointing fingers because they are scared, and Peter, who is only human like the rest of us, doesn’t know what to do. He panics and claims not to know Jesus. He betrays his friend. Imagine if you were in the same situation. It’s not always easy to go against the crowd and to stand by what you know is right and good, and Peter realizes this when it is too late. Think of Peter when you find yourself in a similar situation.

Close the activity by encouraging young people to reflect privately on their personal choices.

Arts & Faith: Lent Cycle C

Ash Wednesday

Week 1 of Lent

Week 2 of Lent

Week 3 of Lent

Week 4 of Lent

Week 5 of Lent

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Holy Thursday

Good Friday

Holy Saturday

Easter Sunday

Also see Arts & Faith: Lent Cycle A and Lent Cycle B, and Using Arts & Faith: Lent with the RCIA