Thursday, June 21, 2012
TWO RETREAT IMAGES
Isenheim Altarpiece. It is a series of folding panels containing pictures from the life of Christ. The deep theological symbolism contained in the paintings would take a month to exhaust.
IDENTIFYING WITH THE SUFFERING CHRIST
When the hinged panels were closed, they revealed a scene of the crucifixion that is one of the most macabre and horrid depictions you can imagine. It’s important to remember that the piece was painted for a hospital for victims of an epidemic of a terrible disease called "ergotism" or “St. Anthony's fire” caused by the poison of a fungus that clung to rye and was inadvertently pounded into the flour used to make rye bread. It “set off painful skin eruptions that blackened and turned gangrenous, often requiring amputations. The eruptions were accompanied by nervous spasms and convulsions. Many victims died.” The sufferers were being invited to identify with the Christ hanging in torment on the cross.
How good am I at remembering to identify my own sufferings with those of Christ on the cross? I’m too likely to forget that connection and concentrated simply on the commendable search for ways to make the pain stop. But this picture of the body of the crucified Christ covered with lesions can remind me to see my sufferings as part of his.