All this month, I am focusing on this painting by Rogier van der Weyden called “The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece.” I have asked several friends of mine, who just happen to be women pastors, to comment on this painting using the following as their guide:
Community—Seasons—Sacrament— Sacrifice — Cross— Christ
Guest Blogger: Pastor Terri Driver-Bishop
Indiana Jones is a movie character played by Harrison Ford. Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones Jr. is a mild- mannered archeology professor who becomes a daredevil adventurer when he goes searching for lost antiquities. At some point in the movie he finds himself accidentally in a room of snakes. “Snakes!” he says, “I hate snakes.” Snakes are the one thing Indiana Jones fears. Snakes bring suffering and death.
In the book of Numbers (see 21: 4-9), there is a story about a time when the Hebrew people were wandering in the wilderness and they became plagued by poisonous snakes. The people were suffering and dying. To save them, Moses prays to God for help. God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. If a person is bitten by a snake, they only have to look at the bronze snake and they will be healed and live.
In Rogier van der Weyden’s painting The Seven Sacraments, we see Jesus lifted up on the Cross. It is striking as it is set in place as the centerpiece of normal everyday cathedral life. The message I believe is clear, like the bronze snake which healed the Hebrew people, Christ is lifted up so that we might look upon his cross of suffering and death to find healing and life.
What do you see when you look at the cross? Do you see the things you fear the most: the consequences of sin? Your own human frailty and brevity of life? Powerlessness against the powers of this world? or Do you see someone who loves you so much he is willing to suffer and die for you? Do you see a person who suffers with you when you suffer? Do you see the tears of God crying for the loss of his loved one?
Three years ago, my first grandson Camden died at his birth. He was never able to take a breath. Our whole family was devastated and still struggles with our loss. During that time, one thing that helped me was to think of the cross and understand that my God knows what it is like to lose a child. Because of this, God has compassion for those who grieve and sends his healing power to help people through their loss and help them learn to live again, through a different kind of life.
It is interesting to note that the bronze serpent of Moses on a pole became a symbol of healing in the medical profession that is still used today. In that same way, Jesus’ death on the cross has become a symbol and promise that Christ is the Healer. When we look upon the cross, and believe that Christ is our Savior, then we will be healed of our suffering and forgiven for our sin.
May this week be a time to take your eyes off of the snakes in your life – off of your fears, your grief, your suffering – and look at the cross. The cross towers over the joys and sorrows of our lives.
Wonder at God’s love for you.
Believe that Christ came to save you.
Receive Christ’s power to bring life out of death.
Pastor Terri Driver-Bishop is pastor of Emmanuel Trinity Lutheran Church, located on the south side of Frederick, MD. This small but mighty church strives to love others, serve others, and lead others to Christ.