November 20, 2021

One of the most vivid and disturbing paintings that depict Jesus’ crucifixion was painted by the German artist Matthias Grünewald in the early 1500s. The painting was created for a large altarpiece, known as the Isenhiem Altarpiece, for the monastery of Saint Anthony in northern France. Beholding the altarpiece, the image of the crucified Jesus towers overhead. His arms stretched beyond their capacity. His hands twisted and contorted as they were bluntly nailed to the wood of the cross. Jesus’ ribs protrude as he gasps for air. Blood pours from his side. It is a heart-wrenching image and has become one of the most famous paintings of Jesus’ suffering.

As Catholics, we often encounter images of Jesus crucified. They can become so commonplace not only in imagery but also in the messages we hear that we can start to believe that Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross are the centerpieces of the story. This can become unhealthy if we neglect the rest of the story. The centerpiece of the story is the resurrection. This is a point Jesus is trying to make in today’s reading. He’s redirecting his listeners away from unhealthy or unfruitful paths of thinking. Instead, he wants them to rejoice in the good news of the resurrection, and he wants them to see the main point.

The Isenhiem Altarpiece also has folding screens that can be turned to reveal other images taken from Jesus’ life. One is a glorious image of the resurrection. Sometimes we may find ourselves heading down unhealthy or unfruitful paths, in our thoughts or our actions. That’s when we need to turn the screen to the resurrection and remind ourselves of the good that God can bring about. There may be sufferings and metaphorical deaths we experience, but new life awaits on the other side of these experiences through God’s grace.

Let Us Pray:

Gracious God, your Son Jesus suffered and died for us, and through him, we have been given the gift of new life. Send your Holy Spirit to help us live and witness to that new life in the here and now. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Eucharistic Reflection – Center for Eucharistic Evangelizing (eucharisticevangelizing.com)
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About John Christman, SSS

John Christman, SSS is a member of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and the former editor of Emmanuel. He is an artist, musician and frequently writes on the topic of theology and the arts.