The Corpse God
Take a look. Gaze upon the emaciated form lying on the cold concrete. Does it disturb you? Look up into the face. Notice that the eyes are open. Does it haunt you? The title of the piece is: “The Body of Christ in the Tomb.” It was painted by Renaissance artist Hans Holbein. Many artists over the years have sought to capture the passion of Christ. Numerous paintings of the crucifixion can be found. Likewise many artists have sought to capture the triumph of Easter Sunday. Resurrection paintings abound! Yet, this piece is unique. This piece is not about the dying God. Rather this piece depicts the dead God... the corpse God. It is a depiction of “Holy Saturday.”
We don’t talk much about Holy Saturday. And one look at the calendar makes you wonder why I am even writing about this event on the brink of the Advent season. Yet just as our churches are called to speak about the events that occurred on that first Good Friday and Easter Sunday every week in worship, maybe, just maybe we should on occasion include a message about “Holy Saturday.” Not a message about the dying God, but the dead God. About Jesus who was “crucified, died, and was buried.” Sure the cross does indeed depict the dead God on a tree, yet there is something visceral about looking upon the dead God in the tomb.
My grandmother died this past summer. She joined my grandfather in that her corpse was buried right next to him in the little cemetery back in Michigan. If you were to take a shovel and dig up either grandpa or grandma you would find their corpses there right where they were left in their coffins. Pick any loved one in your family. As disturbing as it sounds we could displace the dirt in any number of graves across the world and find the corpses of family and friends there.
Death is a cold, hard disturbing reality. It is that reality into which Jesus entered. Just like the millions of corpses buried in tombs, crypts, and graves across the world speak to the cold, hard reality of death so, too, does Holy Saturday.
God experienced death in Christ. God experienced the shutting down of the organs... the last breath leaving lungs... the last heart beat in the chest. God flat-lined on the cross and was buried in the tomb. He understands the cold, hard reality of that non-life. It is a strange sort of comfort to the believer, then, to think about how Christ is not only in the dying but also in death.
Both my grandparents died as baptized believers in Jesus. He was there in their suffering through cancer and Alzheimer’s. He is also there in the grave with them. You see my grandparents are participating in that Holy Saturday experience right now. Don’t get me wrong, I believe, as Scripture teaches, that their spirits have gone to be with Jesus. Yet I also believe, as Scripture teaches, that that is not the end game of the Christian experience. Over and over again Jesus testifies that the final hope of all believers is found in their own resurrections from the dead following in the literal footsteps of that first resurrection from the dead.
Yet we all know that has not happened yet, and here is why if we open the graves of the faithful across the globe we will not find them empty, but rather we will see them reposed in the state of their own Holy Saturday awaiting that final trumpet... the cry of the archangel... and the return of Christ to the earth. And in speaking about Christ’s return that actually does bring us current to the church calendar. It is this time of year that we contemplate, teach, and preach on the “Last Things.” These are not just rooted and centered in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, they are also founded upon the buried Christ.
I invite you to look again at Holbein’s painting. See in the disturbing and haunting image a sense of beauty. Look at the cold, listless eyes of the Savior. Look at the emaciated form lying there with no beating heart, no breath in the lungs, and no neurons firing in the brain. See in that form your own eventuality. And be comforted that your Saturday experience will be Holy, because of the Corpse God.