Lenten Meditation #1

Passionszyklus (Garten Gethsemane), Kirche Tenna, GR, um 1408, unbekannter Künstler
Passion of Christ fresco (Garden Gethsemane), Kirche Tenna, GR, about 1408, unknown artist

One person is in distress, profusely sweating on his face and on his hands. The others, very close to him, are sleeping – complacent, feeling safe, a sword in hand.

  • How often did I withdraw in daily life from people in need, people who feel insecure, who worry about their well-being and the future?
  • How many people do I know around me that have a hard time making it financially, that have a hard time figuring out how to manage the ever growing demands of today´s consumerist society and meritocracy?
  • How often am I complacent, despite the fact that I see and recognize the misery and burden that people carry all over the world?
  • How many times have I advised someone that each person has to shape his or her own life – only to avoid my responsibility of acting in solidarity?
  • Don´t I expect, again and again, that I need outside support for my tasks in life and that the community will have to carry me when I am in trouble?

This scene from the passion of Christ fresco in the church of Tenna, Switzerland, depicts a humble Jesus as well as three sleeping and complacent disciples. He is the one who carries the heaviest burden; he is afraid of the consequences of his calling (or his destiny). He seems to connect with a higher power, praying, but with an apparent openness to face his fate. Jesus does not show any anger about the injustice he will be subjected to; but he seems worried whether he is up to the difficult task (as symbolized by the chalice). Despite the immediate closeness, he appears removed from the sleeping disciples. He leaves them undisturbed and does not insist on their support in his troubles.

I have observed many times that people with the least privileges in our global society make the fewest claims and demands. I found among the people that we view as those who live in poverty and misery the ones who show a higher level of happiness. People in Chad don’t complain about the fact that they have to carry the water for miles through the desert. They do not feel disadvantaged if their meals consists of rice or millet every day, sometimes with a helping of dried dates. They showed a humble attitude and tried to make the best to meet their needs with what they had.

It is a gift to be happy with little and to humbly accept ones fate, knowing full well that it will not be easy to live up to it. It is much more pleasant to be able to share those tasks and to carry the burdens in life together. Therefore, I want to be alert so I can offer people around me my support when I see that they are struggling or when they are afraid of the tasks ahead.

Here is the bible text that informed the above painted scene:

Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39-46)

Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”
He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.
At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation

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More meditations based on the ten scenes in the fresco that I will publish (in English and German) throughout the lenten season can be found here: Betrachtungen zur Fastenzeit

Here is an overview of the entire fresco:

(photo credit: Foto-Kunst Andreas Keller, kirchen-online.org)

One thought on “Lenten Meditation #1

  1. Amy McDonald from St. John´s Episcopal Church in North Haven, Connecticut, USA, wrote her own, expanded lenten meditation based on the same fresco in the church of Tenna.

    I am glad to see that these pictures, intended as an illustrated bible for a largely illiterate population of mountain farmers, still inspire across cultures, continents, and centuries.

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