Lenten Meditation #3

Passionszyklus (Vor dem Hohen Rat), Kirche Tenna, GR, um 1408, unbekannter Künstler
Passion of Christ fresco (before the Council), Kirche Tenna, GR, um 1408, unknown artist

A guarded man with arms crossed at the wrists, and others who speak or deliberate about him, pointing with fingers. There is a clear class difference visible: one barefoot, the other one awarded with insignia. The posture of the simple man expresses confidence; the the powerful, however, has a questioning face and seems to lean forward in order to suggest importance of his arguments.

  • What is my position towards authorities?
  • How do I know that what I believe in is authentic?
  • Where do I get the strength from to stand up for my attitudes and convictions under pressure and against outside influence without challenging or attacking others?
  • How can I remain firm in my beliefs when I am being criticized or misunderstood?
  • Whom do I feel obliged when I feel the knife on my throat? How far am I willing to compromise in order to avoid consequences?

This scene from the passion of Christ fresco in the church of Tenna, Switzerland, depicts how Jesus is presented to the Council by the soldiers. Jesus stands slightly bent, in humility. He is alone. Are his hands tied? The guards around him look threatening, some show aggressive facial expressions. One of them pulls Jesus’ hair. Most of the soldiers look towards authority, waiting for approval or reward. The captain is pointing accusingly at Jesus. The authority figure and the consultant behind him look puzzled, with a hint of incomprehension. The look in their eyes points exactly at Jesus as the fingers of the soldiers do. Jesus seems calm, patient, and willing to talk. He does not defend himself.

This scene is inspirational for me as it radiates calm despite the hopeless and oppressive situation. Jesus knows where he is grounded; he stands firmly in reality and is carried spiritually at the same time. He does not have to look for a way out, does not need references to vouch for him. His center of strength is within himself, invisible to those who characterize themselves by outward appearances.

At the same time, the figure of Jesus stands as the quiet center in the depicted scene. This composition by the unknown artist carries much symbolism. I recognize the situation in which my attitudes and beliefs are challenged, criticized, blamed or attacked. I also know the desire to know and to feel that I am on my way and that I can truly follow my calling. How often am I confused by other opinions and influences? How often do I tell a story the way I expect it appeals to the listener and not the way I experienced it? How often does it happen that I gloss over my beliefs under pressure with half-truths, only to satisfy and pacify the oppressor?

The Council represents knowledge, law, and power. Thus, he can be seen wearing expensive clothes, a special hat and a staff. But as a human being he is not depicted in a very confident manner. For me, his appearance and his inner being are not congruent.

It is nice to see that Jesus does not have to resort to the known behavior patterns of defense: He does not have to prove that he is right. He has no need to convince others that they make false assumptions. He lets the differences stand, even thou it is threatening. He knows exactly who has the power and the means for violence. With love and humility, he stands for truthfulness.

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

Jesus before the Council (Luke 22:66-71)

At daybreak all the elders of the people assembled, including the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. Jesus was led before this high council, and they said, “Tell us, are you the Messiah?”
But he replied, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.”
They all shouted, “So, are you claiming to be the Son of God?”
And he replied, “You say that I am.”
“Why do we need other witnesses?” they said. “We ourselves heard him say it.”

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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)

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