From the Victoria Times Colonist - April 3, 2010
Yesterday, for Christians, was the saddest day of the year, the day they crucified Jesus. Tomorrow is probably the happiest, the day he rose from the dead.
Today, we're in a kind of limbo between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Yet today does have a name -- Holy Saturday. This is the day Christians remember Jesus lying in the tomb. It was also a day of absolute sorrow, when his disciples and followers were lost, bereft and alone.
Then on Sunday, the third day, a rebirth, the miracle of miracles. He came back to them.
At first there was disbelief and then a kind of grudging belief. And then, over time, came Belief of monumental, stunning proportions. Belief through the ages and here, more than 2,000 years later, there are the churches and cathedrals and Easter bonnets (on New York's Fifth Avenue, anyway) to celebrate and bear witness to that joy.
The cross, not surprisingly, has been the enduring symbol of Christianity. Most Christian churches show paintings or sculptures or stained-glass images of Christ, his face contorted in pain, wearing a loincloth on the cross. His bloodied hands and feet are nailed to the structure.
It is, to be sure, the most heart-wrenching of images, even if you're not quite a Believer.
The comedian Dick Gregory once pointed out that if Christ were executed today, people would start wearing electric chairs around their necks. A strange motif, yes, but after the laughter subsides it's a good idea to pause. Many employ instruments of torture to remember one they love.
Interestingly, there are more -- many more -- images depicting the death than the Resurrection. The populist depiction of Jesus is a man in pain rather than a man of joy, of humour, of happiness and kindness. Or a man making miracles.
The Christ on the cross is a man crying "Why have you forsaken me?" to his father, and this is the image most of us immediately bring to mind. We seem to be celebrating man's inhumanity than Christ's humanity. Here he is vulnerable. Beaten. Bloodied. Broken.
Certainly, there are many images of the baby Jesus in the manger, but this is often a swaddled or anonymous Jesus. Centre-stage -- or centre-barn -- obviously, but Mary and Joseph, assorted wise men, shepherds and animals get equal billing.
The life of Jesus between birth and death is rarely depicted. Sometimes we see him in flowing robes, arms outstretched. Presumably, this is the image popes and cardinals like to model themselves on. Reverent. Ethereal. Pious.
Sometimes we see him healing the sick, raising Lazarus from the dead, and in one or two images casting out the moneychangers in the temple. These are rare. Eventually, everything heads back to that image on the cross or that baby in the manger.
I once spoke to a Lutheran minister who bemoaned the fact that almost every image of Jesus showed him as miserable, or pious, eyes raised to the heavens. This, he said, gave Jesus the wrong image. A man without human form.
"He was a man of humour, of decisiveness. A leader. Yet we have this Renaissance view of him that persists to this day. Artists are afraid to deviate from that image."
That's true. The image might have gone through various artistic permutations and styles, but it's still, usually, an image of overwhelming sadness rather than an image of joy.
That same Lutheran minister had hung a painting called Jesus Laughing in his church, a famous painting showing Christ throwing his head back and guffawing. Not smiling demurely, pope-like, but a man, enjoying himself, laughing at a joke, a remembered moment.
There are scant images of Christ risen from the dead, and these often have a bright halo above his head and scared, subjugated mortals at his feet. These images are historical religiously, but they lack the conviction or splendour of the crucifixion.
The fact is, the way we mostly depict him is in terms of Good Friday -- sombre, dark and sad -- rather than Easter Sunday -- a day of spring, of flowers, of rebirth, of wonder. And hope.
That's a pity. We should make Jesus happier. A man reborn. An Easter Sunday Jesus, not just a Good Friday Jesus. I'd like that. I'd like to think he would, too.