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Tetelestai ~ It is finished


Last fall in my first year of Seminary I took a course on the Gospel of John. What I found so interesting about this particular Gospel was the way in which the author spoke about the crucifixion. Our professor pointed out the contrast between this account and the others in the synoptic Gospels which painted a much darker portrait of the final moments on the cross. In John, the last words of Christ are “tetelestai,” the Greek word meaning it is finished or complete. The question we answered throughout the course was really in response to those final words. What exactly was finished or completed on the cross? My response to this as an artist was an idea for a painting that could visually explore this concept. I sought to visually interpret the theology of the cross according to John’s Gospel. Through this painting I am hoping to convey two different sides of the cross and also use it as an instrument to open discussion on the image of God.

The theology of the cross is complex and can be hard to understand in the context of modern thinking. One side of the cross portrays a revelation of God’s love while the other a tragic loss of life and great suffering. “Some readers might not unreasonably point out that the cross was actually an act of violence, in which suffering and death were inflicted on Christ.” (McGrath 268) For some it’s impossible to see the final moments of the cross as something that could be considered beautiful or the moment of completion. The imagery so often depicted of a suffering Christ hanging lifeless adorns our walls and worship spaces evoking grief and sorrow. Just looking upon that image makes our own heads hang in response to the misery. When exploring the contrasting reality of the cross which is that of love, relationship and revelation of God’s nature I found myself struggling to reconcile the two. In my own devotion and approach to the theology of the cross I found myself nailed to the cross. I was stuck in the grief, the pain and suffering of my savior. I forgot the counterpart to my very own faith which is also life and resurrection. “In his utmost compassion God turned around this sign of defeat and made it into the sign of the conquest of death and the beginning of a new creation.” [1] I would argue that there are far more images of the crucifixion and a tendency for us to fixate on the final moments and too few images of the resurrection. When in truth, the theology of the cross depicts two sides equally central. How would our perception change as a culture if our visual imagery of the cross included both death and life together? It is with my painting, Tetelestai , I explored this possibility.

The other aspect of this painting that arose in my second year of seminary, through a theology course, concerns the idea of the image of god. What did Christ look like and how can I render him in a way that could be appealing to anyone in or outside of the body of Christ? When approaching a painting such as the crucifixion I had to take into consideration this complex theology of Imago Dei. Every one of us has a different idea of what Christ may have looked like. What color his eyes were, length of his hair, color of his skin, or length of his beard. For some, a white Jesus may be a stumbling block and for others a gateway for a deeper connection. As a white female I understand that my photo realistic portrayal of Christ may feel remote to many who look upon it. If my goal is to share the love of God which is equally given to all of us through the cross will it be received by anyone else if it’s through my own lens?

I considered rendering an abstract image taking away any ethnicity or differences that could prevent someone from being able to see themselves in the work of Christ. But I knew that most importantly in this painting, I needed to be able to see the humanity of Jesus in his face. I needed to see the sorrow and the sacrifice but also the joy that was set before him on the cross and the love that was freely displayed. In the end when selecting my model to capture the expressiveness I was looking for, I held onto the belief that we are all made and created in the image of God. His face shines upon us all and is reflected in each one of us. It is my hope that in this painting others will be able to see that both sides of the cross, the death and the life, point us to one truth, and reveal through the son that the father “is a personal God of infinite compassion and suffering love.” (Roberts 109) And also that anyone who looks at this painting will see themselves in the humanity of Christ and experience his love in a deeper way.

[1] Hans Schwarz, The Christian Faith, A Creedal Account, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 9

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