The Seventh Station: What Our Lord Saw From The Cross

March 31, 2010 Comments Off on The Seventh Station: What Our Lord Saw From The Cross

A wonderful artistic discovery for me lately has been the work of James Tissot, whose extensive watercolor series of events in the life of Christ was recently on exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

One of Tissot’s best-known paintings is titled “What our Lord saw from the Cross”. It is a small painting, a little over 9” x 9”, and yet a work of enormous scope and power. At the time, it caused a great stir among the art-viewing public for the audacity of imagining such a profound moment from Jesus’ own viewpoint.

And this is a “presumption” that many of us may be shy about but need to explore. We say that we believe that Christ is fully human and then may be timid about these realities. It is natural to deify Christ on the Cross – to hold the Passion at such reverent emotional and spiritual distance that we dare not think of what the human person Jesus of Nazareth might have felt. Tissot dares to envision. On the faces of those at the foot of the cross Jesus sees every passion known to humanity. He looks at the people looking up at him. Some are scornful, almost leering; a well-dressed man on horseback gazes up at Christ as someone from whom he has nothing to learn. Christ watches himself being regarded as a zero, a nothing, a person of no significance. The rider’s companion, equally well dressed on another horse behind him, gazes anxiously up at the sky, noticing the gathering clouds that will in a few hours tear the Temple veil in two. Other onlookers are curious, or disgusted, or visibly relieved that this disgrace and suffering is falling on someone other than themselves. The women and the Beloved Disciple are at the foot of the Cross: distraught, resigned, sorrowful. As we look down through Jesus own eyes, we see our own bloodied feet. This, or something like it, must have been what Jesus saw from the Cross.

By all accounts, Jesus’ own demeanor does not change. Despite the whirlwind of passions and reactions to him, his reaction towards others remains one of loving concern. His clear gaze has already taken in his persecutors and enemies, his friends who love but are vacillating, and those who are faithful to the end.

For me, Jesus’ Passion resonates with more nuance and complexity – more true to human experience – when I dare to imagine Jesus experiencing all these things as a fully human being, vulnerable not only to the physical suffering but also to the pain of betrayal, rejection, fear, abandonment by God and his friends. We honor Jesus most fully when we refuse to deify him at the expense of his full humanity.

– The Rev. Caroline Stacey
Rector, The Church of St. Luke in the Fields

Image: James Tissot, What Our Lord Saw from the Cross, Brooklyn Museum

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