It’s Wednesday and time once more for Art with Rosanna. Today’s picture shows Jesus coming out of the tomb on Easter. But like the real Easter event, there’s so much more story here than meets the eye. I was actually present when Rosanna made this one, and how it came into being is as fascinating as the picture itself.
Once upon a time, when Rosanna was a member of the church I served as pastor, she came to me with a great idea. “I learned this technique that would let the entire congregation participate in artwork. Can we try it all together?” That seemed wonderful to me, so we agreed that each Sunday of Lent, during the offering time in worship, we would create something. Rosanna would direct the project and the rest of us could follow along, doing whatever she needed.
The first Sunday of Lent, Rosanna showed up with a blank canvas on an easel. She explained that we were going to make something beautiful together. Each Sunday would involve a different part. That first Sunday just had strips of different colored paper or something. (I forget the exact order. I’m not an artist!) The paper was in the pews. Everyone could choose one, bring it forward, wet it a little, and stick it to the canvas. People asked, “How should we do this? Where should we stick it?” She responded, “Do it however you want.” We shrugged and did. We had no clue what we were doing, but we trusted and went along. The canvas was pretty afterwards with all that color.
The second Sunday involved some kind of texture thing maybe? The third had us sticking newsprint or old bulletins onto the picture. The canvas was getting covered with more and more material…something was sure going on. We still couldn’t figure out what.
Rosanna never did tell us what to put where or how to align things. We just picked up whichever piece of material we wanted and stuck it on the canvas however seemed best to us. But it was funny. Even though we didn’t know what we were doing and had no idea what our contributions were leading to, we started to take ownership of the piece. We wanted to see how our part was going to fit in, what we were making together. As the weeks rolled by, the project became personal for all of us. Even when our minds were confused and wondering, our hearts were invested.
That’s why it was sad, maybe even a little shocking, when we showed up on Good Friday—the night of the crucifixion—to find Rosanna with strips of black paper in her hand. We each got one as we came in the door. We were instructed to adhere it to the picture. This was hard! Piece by piece, all of our color and texture was disappearing. Our investment was being swamped by darkness.
Some of us thought that maybe the art experiment didn’t work after all. Others of us thought that covering it in blackness on Good Friday was the point, that experiencing this loss was part of the lesson. Either way, I was sorry to see the picture go. I had begun to love that thing and the way we had gathered around it.
We held our Good Friday service and left in silence for the weekend of contemplation before Easter. Our work was completed, the picture was dark, but it was finally done.
But not quite.
As we came in on Easter morning, Rosanna stood in front of the congregation with the black canvas on its familiar easel. Nobody knew what she was doing…even I didn’t know this was going to happen. I guessed she was going to move it aside, making room for the flowered Easter cross in its place.
Instead, at the start of the service, as we all watched, Rosanna began peeling back the black strips we had draped over the canvas. Around the edges some blue and purple started to show. Then the interior started coming off and we saw glimpses of yellow and white! What??? Then she pulled the strips off of the middle and there was Jesus, coming towards us, carrying a little lamb in his arms!!! After the blackness and sense of loss, the picture glowed brighter than anything else in the room. The words surrounding Jesus spoke of joy and resurrection.
To this day, I do not know how Rosanna managed that. I was there personally, watching every black strip go on. I’ve seen the picture up close and, at least to my eyes, the strips of paper and colors underneath look like the ones we all put there. To me, it still seems like a miracle.
However she did it, what an illustrative process this was! For weeks we brought what we could, only to see it end up in darkness. But then, just when we were sure it couldn’t happen, the light showed forth. Nobody controlled it. Most of us had no idea how it was happening, or even THAT it was happening. Beauty and life shone through and among us anyway.
This picture is special to me. When most people see Jesus carrying the lamb, their mind goes to church-y Lamb of God imagery. When I see that lamb in that piece of art, I feel like it’s each of us individually and all of us collectively, nestled in Jesus’ arms, being carried to new life, just like our congregation was carried that morning.
You can find Rosanna at https://www.facebook.com/rosanna.cartwright.3. Come back next Wednesday for more artwork and theological discussion!