by Marjorie George
Richard Lacayo, observer of the arts and writer for Time magazine, asserts that it was the artist Rembrandt who changed our image of Christ from celestial concept to man on the street. In the 17th century, says Lacayo, the Dutch painter effectively invented Christ as we tend to picture him now – “not as a remote divinity but as the ideal human being, a profoundly complex and gentle man” (“The Halo Effect,” Time, Aug. 15, 2011).
Throughout Rembrandt’s lifetime of painting, his presentation of Christ changed from an otherworldly, remote and divine figure to a consoling Christ, “quieter, more meditative, somebody who would listen,” says Lacayo. He wonders if this shift in perspective is a result of Rembrandt living life – experiencing the death of his beloved wife when she was but 30 years old, the death of three of their four children in infancy, his mounting money problems, his descent into debt. The result, says Lacayo, is that “In Rembrandt’s late, great reckoning with Christ, the natural and the supernatural are one and the same.”
It is exactly this “living life” that the disciples and first followers of Christ are now experiencing in the gospel narratives between the resurrection of Easter Sunday and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The life they had been living with Jesus is different from the one he calls them to now. Once they had been the followers; now they are in charge. Once the mission had been ethereal, noble, righteous, a cause worth dying for. Now their feet would be sore, their backs would hurt, people would slam doors in their faces, and dying for the cause would no longer be just a theory.
Do we not find it ironic that the intangible, ghostlike Christ who floats in and out of the disciples’ lives during these 40 days becomes the Christ of their present and future reality? Perhaps we can learn something from scrutinizing those 40 days.
Of the four gospels, only John devotes more than one chapter to the 40 days; he gives it two. (See Matt 28:1-20, Mark 16:2-19, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:24.) Acts presents the continuation of the saga in 1:1-26. In the stories we do have, we find Christ coming among the disciples most often in their ordinary lives – as they fish, as they walk along the road, as they share a meal, as they pray, as they gather together for comfort and support.
But in these commonplace incidents, we hear the words that become the stuff of church banners and bumper stickers:
“Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them about me.”
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“You are my witnesses.”
“I will send the Holy Spirit to help you.”
“Don’t be afraid.”
Easter, we are beginning to find out, was just the beginning. For the disciples – as for us — the rest of the story unfolds in the living-out of our commonplace, sometimes dull, often difficult, lives. As a professor of mine once said, “After the ecstasy, the laundry. “
E. Stanley Jones, the American Methodist writer and missionary to India, says that the disciples “went out not remembering Christ, but experiencing him. He was not a mere fair and beautiful story to remember with gratitude – he was a living, redemptive, actual presence then and there . . . The Jesus of history had become the Christ of experience” (“The Christ of Experience,” in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, Orbis, 2003).
The lure of Christ calls us; the hope of Christ sustains us; the Spirit of Christ enables us. But the experience of Christ, ah, that is what changes us.
Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.