In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N.T. Wright wrote the following:
All Christian language about the future is a set of signposts pointing into the mist.”
Throughout this series, I’ve talked about the nature of art and its role in worship, and I want to circle back around to that. If you look at the art that has been made that centers around the resurrection, particularly visual art, you’ll find that much of it strives to portray Christ’s Resurrection in all its glory. In Rembrandt’s painting of the Resurrection, there is an angel hovering over the grave, glowing and soaked in light, shining down on Christ as he raises his head out of the grave. Others, such as the ones done by Peter Paul Rubens, portray Jesus as a muscular figure not unlike the way many Greek gods were portrayed. And still others show Jesus floating in the air, with angels all around Him.
Paintings like these make an effort to portray the fullness of the majesty surrounding Christ’s Resurrection, and perhaps for some, they serve to stretch people’s adoration. And yet, when I look at them, I can’t help but feel like they all fall short. N.T. Wright’s statement about how Christian language toward the future serves as a set of signposts is not entirely unlike what Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
With all this in mind, when I think of paintings surrounding the Resurrection, I can’t help but be drawn to Eugène Burnand’s painting of Peter and John running to the tomb after hearing the news that the stone had been rolled away and that Jesus’ body was no longer there. Not only does it bring us into a moment of Scripture—it also brings us into the state of joyful expectation that the disciples found themselves in. Scripture tells us that they ran to the tomb, and that John outran Peter. They weren’t casually walking—they were racing, for they couldn’t wait to find out what had happened to Jesus. They were literally running toward the greatest surprise ever known to mankind.
Burnand’s painting, however, also seems to have a deeper truth. It acts as a signpost of sorts, inviting us into this moment of joyful expectation. For even though we sit here two thousand years after Christ’s Resurrection, we are told that we should always be in that same state of watchful expectation, not casually reflecting on Christ’s promise to return, but to proclaim His death until he comes, to wait for His return and to hasten His coming, and to count the Lord’s patience as salvation. For because of the Spirit that He has given us, we are signposts to all creation, pointing toward the coming fulfillment with a message far greater than the news that was brought to the disciples. When the world sees us, let them see this joyful expectation, and let it burn in us so hot that no stone can seal the message in our hearts—that Christ is Alive!