The Unambiguous Cross and the Interconnectedness of All Things
This short article is in promotion of the art work by Alice Sielle that we have on the back cover and that accompanies our poetry section in LF Spring 2019, which in this issue is on The Stations of the Cross by Lisbeth Smedegaard Andersen (translated by our poetry and hymn editor Gracia Grandal).
In this issue we are excited to also be featuring the artwork of Alice Sielle. Ms. Sielle, of the United Kingdom, is an abstract painter by trade but will also do figurative work, “when the subject demands no ambiguity.” There are few subjects that project less ambiguity than the crucified Christ.
To be sure, there has been plenty of interpretive hand-wringing over the meaning of the cross, but its method of torment for its subject is intentionally cruel. Its natural for us to pivot towards our favorite atonement theories in order to make sense of the cross, but we don’t seem just as quick to simply allow the horror of the cross to stay before our eyes. We have a habit of anesthetizing the cross when we turn the awe of its stunning inhumanity into a graduate school lecture (even if an advanced lecture).
Sielle was commissioned to paint the fourteen stations of the cross by the Reverend Brian Ralph of St. Barnabas Church in London. The artist struggled with her own understanding of the cross, “I told Brian that I’d never really understood the meaning of the cross, so would need him to explain it to me. But he didn’t, so in the end I did them as man’s inhumanity to man. They were the most heart-wrenching things I’ve done.” Man’s inhumanity to man. Yes, this and more. We desired to provide you with visuals to accompany each of Lisbeth Smedgaard Andersen’s sonnets on the stations. We landed on the clarity of Sielle’s work.
None of us were present when our Lord walked the final road of his passion to the cross. So we can’t do worse than the words of another person who also wasn’t there, but whose words on the cross have stood the test of time. Paul exudes unambiguity regarding the cross when he makes it plain that the crown of the Son of God’s exaltation was death, “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8), and that, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). What makes the cross unambiguous is not its finely presented and parsed out theories but that it is, in its essence, God for us.
God for us is the gift that the stations of the cross place in front of our eyes. In Deuteronomy we read about how the Israelites were to make the words of the Lord, through Moses his servant, as “frontlets between the eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:8). The cross of Christ is the frontlet placed between our eyes. The Word of the Lord in Jesus is where all things come together for all people because in Jesus we see that God is indeed for us.
The scriptures drive home this point that the crucified and risen Christ is most clearly God for us, but we certainly get a taste of that “in the beginning” (cf. Genesis 1). Creation itself is God making clear that God is for us. In addition to the stations we are pleased to display for you another work of Sielle’s on the back cover. This piece comes from a collection of pieces that seek to communicate creation. The One Creation paintings are a series of ten works “about the interconnectedness of all living things and our crucial interdependency on each other.” The artist says that the idea of these abstracts were in response to the threat of extremism.
Moses’ account of the creation is itself a response to extremism. The ancient cultures that surrounded the Israelites were brutal in their view of humanity and in their view of the gods. The words of Israel’s great prophet present a different picture of the universe, humanity, and humanity’s God. Creation is a gift for all living things, with man and woman as its crown gift. Sin and death—tangible extremism—ripped a cosmic hole through the interconnectedness of all things. Instead of all things depending on God and each other, all things found themselves in extreme competition with one another.
That cosmic hole of extremism is met at the cross. Again, we don’t want to turn the cross into an ivory tower lecture, but we do want to see how the cross reconnects all things that have been disconnected by death. The reconciliation of all things comes through another cosmic cut in creation. This time, God himself is the one being cut down so that all things may be born again. Whatever failing words we have for the cross we will always have its impact: the reconciliation of all things. When most things are torn apart they are not able to be put back together again, but the Lord Jesus is not most things. His fate on his cross meets the fate of the world, and as the stone is rolled away we see that the world has been put together again.
 See more at http://sielle.co.uk/about/4586027468