It is Easter season again. Jesus may be dead, but His Spirit abounds with us and in us. His teachings are revelations and paradigms for humans to orient their lives and passions. Looking into the icon, I see death cannot be contained in a coffin or crypt and the story has just begun. Surrender to change is the message. Give up and give it all back to God, the Creator. Is Jesus dead in the painted icons of the Lamentation? The situation reminds us that our lives are temporary and spirit is eternal.
Icons of the Lamentation.
Jesus has risen from the dead, leaving only His shroud behind, neatly folded in most icons. Three faithful women stand looking into the coffin. If you have ever looked into a coffin, I suggest you do it. The women are not afraid of what they might see or understand if is Jesus Dead! Two angels are flanking the coffin suggesting he is not. They sit on cosmic orbs, each perched on a cosmic domain.
I painted the icon in response to the US involving itself with war and destruction against the middle east and Muslim population after 911. The news telecasting was full of aggression and verbal rhetoric. The broadcasts deeply troubled me.
War and fear dominated the news. Painting this icon image was therapy. The composition illustrated clearly there are many perspectives and deductions humans make about one specific event. It touched me to think his folded cloth was all that remained from the life of a brilliant teacher.
Death always brings new life
This icon of lamentation was difficult to paint. I have known plenty of lamentation; dead parents at 12 years old, losing two siblings, and my ability to walk well because of a drunk driver. At some point painting, I heard the words: I AM “beyond flesh and spirit”. I used those words as the title. Disasters, traumas, or devastation, all of them bring about lamentation and change. With great pain we often ask Is Jesus Dead?
We are mystery; we have come from and go to an unknown yet new landscape.
The grave cloth that remains is pitiful evidence left after the monumental life of Jesus. Immigrants who are driven out to a new land leave such garments like these and never return. Jesus tried to get us to understand the impermanence of one’s life versus spiritual and eternal love. Our bodies and what we create becomes our identity, why do we lament when we lose it?
We cannot tolerate our mortality, so we invent ways to think of ourselves as immortal. What we leave after one life is a folded cloth. We take nothing with us at the moment of death, regardless of its beauty or hideousness. I realized Jesus knew: this is not my world; I do not own it, or sustain it.
It must have perplexed these three women to look and not find the lifeless body of their teacher. They had come in service to anoint the body. Looking towards the folded clothes they might have found it confusing. The angels appear and surprise them more by pointing to the empty coffin.
Is Jesus Dead yet not Gone?
The second icon of lamentation includes four women and no angels to help them figure out if He is Dead. It looks like Jesus is dead, wrapped up like a mummy. The icon’s composition illustrates the moment of entombment. Mother Mary reaches down to touch her son’s cheek and places hers against him. The only other time you see them cheek to cheek is at His birth. Jesus and Mary distort time and space with this tender archetypal moment between mother and child. The moment highlights the tender and extravagant love all humans feel at birth and death. Icons of Lamentation remind us of being human, without logic or words.
When the palms are exposed to the viewer, it shows a state of prayer and surrender.
Mary Magdalene raises her hands wondering is Jesus really dead and turns her palms to the viewer. Talking with a friend about her dead father, she said his death pulled up the same feelings she had about a twin brother and five years ago the death of her husband.
She asked, why do we have to keep feeling such grief? I said till it becomes sweet enough to learn from. Grief can release some of the deepest love our souls can experience. The depth and intensity of loss is there for a lifetime. It forces us to surrender to unexpected emotions, unfinished business, and unspoken questions. In this icon of the Lamentation, emotions are raw. Anyone can relate to someone dying.
After two thousand years, Jesus is death is no less sorrowful. Death is the greatest testament of love. There are never enough years to love someone or be loved by them. However, the quality of that love never gets diminished by time. So, love with abandon, it will end one day. Ask ,is Jesus Dead or something other is taking His place. Peace be with you.
Author Bio. Mary Jane Miller is a self-taught Byzantine style iconographer with over 28 years of experience. Her collection of sacred art is contemporary, unique, and unorthodox at times. The work abundantly explores women in iconography. Collections exhibited in Museums and churches in both the United States and Mexico. She teaches 4 courses annually, 5 day immersion workshops throughout the US and Mexico. website: www.sanmiguelicons.com and http://sacrediconretreat.com/
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