By: Brad Masters //
“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to waht source they may look for a remission of their sins” ~2 Nephi 25:26, The Book of Mormon
A few weeks ago, I went to a display on BYU campus featuring the artwork of Carl Bloch, Franz Schwarz, and Heinrich Hoffman. I should never have gone: I had to take an ethics exam the next day, and I all-but-certainly failed due to insufficient study. But my mom and sister were in town, and hey, I figured I may get extra Kudos from God by taking time for family, right? (Isn’t it about . . . time?)
This display, though. Wow. Some of the most beautiful depictions of Jesus Christ ever brushed onto a canvas hung on the walls of that gallery. I really enjoy art, but I’m not one of those people who connects with art so deeply that the artists’ every thought & intent jump out to me and cuddle my soul like a down comforter. But there, in that gallery, I really felt the pious devotion of these men in each brushstroke.
There were two standouts in my opinion.
The first, a painting by Heinrich Hoffman, “The Figure of Christ.” Christ’s benevolent, merciful countenance shines through his warm eyes and softly lit face. With his two fingers, he rises to bless all those who diligently seek him, to reward them with the temporal and eternal blessings they so desperately need from him. Of all the paintings, this was my mom’s favorite. It matched the image of Christ she carried in her mind’s eye.
The second, a mural-like painting by Franz Schwarz, “The Mocking of Christ with Mary.” In this painting, Christ stands at the center, a crown of thorns upon his head, wearing a look of distress, disappointment, and grief on his face. The two panels directly to the right and left show a mocking crowd, chanting that he be crucified in lieu of the insurrectionist robber Barrabas. And then, on the far panels, Schwarz depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the time of His birth, and then again at the time of his death. Weather worn and aged, Mary’s body appears more frail, but her virtue and faith more mature and complete.
This second one was, hands down, my favorite. I stood there motionless for minutes, transfixed by the polyphony of emotions this painting evoked in me. And at that very moment, my sweet mom walked up behind me and whispered, “I don’t like this one. Christ looks too angry.” In an instant, that moment of serenity I had so fervently been enjoying vaporized. To be honest, I was a little frustrated, both that this painting didn’t move her and that her innocent comment ruined my short communion with divinity. “THIS IS THE BEST ONE HERE!” I thought. “How can you not be moved by this? Why does the distress and grief on Christ’s face turn you off rather than propel you to bended knee?!” This painting spoke so directly to my soul because I need to believe that this experience was difficult for Christ, that he wasn’t smiling and happy and compassionate every second of the ordeal. The only way I can connect with Christ’s sacrifice is by recognizing his humanity and the very real costs at stake, and for me, Schwarz captured this in the troubled expression on Christ’s face.
After a few minutes, I processed what had happened. My mom and I both needed something different from Christ. We each encountered Jesus differently. And that is okay — in the end, He is Savior to us both. And because he suffered for each of our sins and experienced our doubts, fears, and frustrations, he knows us perfectly, too. This allows him to come to us and speak to us as we need to be spoken to.
Jesus Christ is so much more than any one painting can depict. He is so much more than any one video can convey. He is even so much more than any of the Gospel writers, despite their marvelous efforts, could ever describe. To truly understand how meaningful Christ can be in our lives, we have to encounter him personally. We have to seek him out in scriptures, at church, in nature, and in the lives of those we love.
My life has been so blessed because I have felt Christ’s divine presence in my heart. I am infinitely grateful for what his sacrifice has meant to my life. Through the Mormon church, I have encountered a Christ that resonates deeply in my soul, that propels me to be better and to look, hopefully, to the eternities that lie ahead.
For those of you reading his who are not familiar with Mormonism, I invite you to learn about Christ with us. Like the Hoffman and Schwarz pieces that spoke so differently to my mother and I, perhaps our perspective on Jesus is something that will spark a new or more fiery connection with him. I know it has for me.