"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, made it clear that they were looking for a better homeland".
Hebrews 11:13 & 14.
"If only in this life we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied but in fact Christ has been raised from death, the first fruits of those who have died".
1 Corinthians 15: 19 & 20.
In the early 1500's, at a monastery hospital in Isenheim which cared for the incurable, Mattias Grunewald created two altarpiece images for the aid of the dying, one of the crucifixion, showing Christ as the bearer of our diseases, and one of the resurrection, conveying that something wonderful was beyond this present suffering:
It poignantly speaks to the question which would dominate that era - "how can I be saved?", one that often seems strange to many of the popular trends and views of our age, but as we look at these images and consider our own mortality, we can begin to see afresh that the faith which inspires such passionate art and deep considerations is not that foreign or alien at all - it is as necessary as our next breath, and something which actually causes us to become troubled, to question, when we become too at ease with our place in the world.
The 16th century would become a harbinger for both the necessity and the vitality of such issues, especially in the work of Martin Luther.
Luther, as one scholar notes, became an 'ardent proponent of the sacred, spiritual nature of the material', not just because Creation was the good handiwork of God, but because it was the 'Unique means of God's intimate presence in the world - the means of God's redemptive and justifying activity" (Hendel - Luther's radical Incarnational perspective). Whilst this allowed Luther to renew an Apostolic approach to ministry (in use of both the Word and the Sacraments), it also informed a fresh approach towards faith and art.
The first common German Bible, translated by Luther, included numerous woodcuts by Lucas Cranach (the Elder), but as the genuine tangibility of faith was no longer defined merely by 'religious' practices, so all of life itself became the purview of artists who drew from faith in the redemptive work of God amidst creation, and thereby gave birth to a new realism in many schools and movements which arose across Europe.
By truly looking at the beauty of the created order, artists were seeking to make statements about the true 'weight' of these things, by seeing them inherently as good, in spite of the ruin of the fall, for just as they had been made good by God, they were equally redeemed by Christ, and therefore, the richness of common life becomes a foretaste of the splendour of resurrection life.
In his masterful depiction of God's creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, Michelangelo challenges us with revelation of God's character, not remote from us, but right here - the true source of all life and living, of all care and renewal, of all beauty, in it's deepest expression.
On a day when, by such faith, we can look to a crucial reality of our history - that Jesus rose bodily from the tomb - that can indeed be the well-spring that heals us in life, death, and the new day which is fast approaching.
(Images: Luther preaches Christ by Cranach, The Resurrected Christ by Grunewald, Venus by Cranach).