Friday, 6 April 2012


The Resurrection - Piero della Francesca

I hate to admit this but I share a favourite painting with Tony Blair, utterly unprincipled specimen of humanity that he is.

"The Resurrection" by Piero della Francesca in Borgo San Sepolcro in the Province of Arezzo.

No harm to the internet but a cut and paste here fails to do the painting justice. In the room the fresco appears to depict a Christ who is about to actually step into the room. It is a magnificent example of the early mastery of perspective.

But, you know, it is not the mastery of perspective alone that makes this a great work of art.

It is common currency now to dismiss Easter as nothing more than the Christian example of a Spring Festival common to every culture, just as Christmas is similarly ticked off  as belonging to the equally ubiquitous celebration of the occurrence, and more importantly passing, of mid Winter. And of course, in one respect, that is undoubtedly true.


This is our culture. There was a time when nothing was more lamentable, indeed contemptuous, than the idea that western Christian culture was superior to all others. The passing of that assumption however has led all to readily to a belief that our own culture has no value at all.

Here's St Luke 24. 1-8

 "1Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.
 2And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.
 3And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
 4And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
 5And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?
 6He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,
 7Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
 8And they remembered his words,"

"Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen"

Now, the reality is that there are few sentences in the whole history of mankind that have more resonance. They have a resonance for Christians certainly but they have almost an equal resonance for militant atheists shouting back NO HE'S NOT in the internal knowledge that they are protesting not just against an immensely powerful idea but also one, particularly in the King James' Version, quite beautifully expressed.

Somebody was criticised last week for observing that 75% of students now arrive at University without having read the Bible. My only surprise was that 25% have and, indeed, excepting the occasional seminarian with a professional responsibility, I am a little sceptical that so many, apparently, have, But not having read the Bible is not the same as having no knowledge of it. And if, as I suspect was truly being said, 75% of those entering higher education have no real knowledge of the Bible then that is a matter of real concern.

How, otherwise, might one appreciate Milton; or any of Bach's Choral music; or indeed almost all of the art produced by the Renaissance? 

The real importance of Piero's Resurrection is not in its technical competence: it is that after a millenium where Jesus was not a real, living, person but rather someone portrayed, literally, iconically, here was a proper man, stepping not just out of a wall painting or even just out of a book, but out of the grave and into the daily lives of the Faithful. And not just in San Sepolcro.

And you cannot appreciate the painting properly, no matter how admiring of the perspective, without appreciating that as well.

Now, here I just want to reassert my own position as a creature of the enlightenment. Of course, much of what passes for Christianity today enjoys only the endorsement of doctrine rather than Scripture. And, of course, the alternative, protestant, approach attaches to the pre-historic rules of one ethnic group a ludicrous supposed importance with regard to modern living. And of course the middle way of the modern reformed Churches while politically reassuring is undermined by a lurking suspicion of intellectual inconsistency with the idea of a 2000 year old belief. 

And anyway, the whole idea is ludicrous. The Son of God, living among us, martyred for the redemption of our sins and then rising again to show the way to eternal salvation. Who could possibly believe that?

Yet, on Sunday, when across five Continents, and across every race and generation, people gain not just hope but joy with the words "Christ is risen", I defy anybody not to wish that this be true.

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