Worship Helps for Easter

As we focus on Christ’s triumph over the grave, I can’t imagine a better work of art to write about this Easter than the triumphant image of “The Resurrection,” by Ron DiCianni.
Ron began his work in commercial illustration. He quickly became recognized as one of the nation’s most talented illustrators. Ron’s client list was soon dominated by prominent companies like Eli Lilly and McDonald’s. He was chosen as the 1980 Official Olympic illustrator and is considered one of the most successful illustrators of his generation.
Ron has also created the artwork for book covers for some of the most-renowned Christian authors of our time – Max Lucado, Frank Peretti, and others. His most famous work is called “Spiritual Warfare” (link) and has sold tens of millions of prints globally.
Ron considers himself “a Christian cleverly disguised as an artist.” His self-stated mission is to “Reclaim the Arts for Christ.” He was commissioned by the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas, TX (link) to create a mural after experiencing a tragic fire which culminated in nearly a total loss to the museum’s contents, among which was a mural that was well known for them as a “pilgrimage piece,” one that many came from all over the world to see.
“The Resurrection” is no small undertaking. It is, quite literally, a huge and expansive project – measuring 12’ high x 40’ wide. It is the largest mural ever of the resurrection. It is oil on canvas and took Ron two years to complete.
While the mural itself is breathtakingly beautiful, its purpose goes much deeper than just merely art. Ron has said about the subject matter, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important occurrence in human history. This mural brings people in and lets them experience the moment in which Christ conquered the grave and stepped out of the tomb.”
On why he chose the resurrection for this mural, Ron comments, “Michelangelo painted ‘The Creation of Adam’ for the Sistine Chapel. Rembrandt painted the story of ‘The Prodigal Son.’ Every artist longs for the definitive subject to paint. The one that captures a moment in time, hoping that the viewer will put themselves there. For me, it is Christ’s Resurrection. The one act in history that separates Christianity from every philosophy, and dogma. The fact that Christ walked out of the tomb is a historical and theological fact. Some may choose to ignore it, but none can deny it.”
“The Resurrection” is a depiction of the moment Jesus emerges from the tomb. Ron said that he had never seen that particular scene painted before. He wanted to capture a single moment in time. Jesus steps up and out of the grave, His hands vaulting Himself from the borrowed tomb into the glorious resurrection dawn of Easter morning.
Personally, I love works of art that are filled with symbolism. I love finding new meaning every time I examine a piece of art. “The Resurrection” is packed full of rich resurrection symbolic images!
The rock under Christ’s feet is beginning to crack due to the earthquake. The keys of death and hell (Revelation 1:18) are tied on Christ’s belt. The glory surrounding Christ’s head is created to also be reminiscent of the crown of thorns that was around Christ’s head only three days earlier.
Two angelic warriors are kneeling, their swords pointed to the ground and their heads bowed in humility. They are both the witnesses of the resurrection and the representatives of heaven’s angelic host. They bow before He who was made a little lower than the angels, but is now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death and rose victorious (Hebrews 2:9).
The guards have fainted at the sight of the glory of the angels (Matthew 28:4). But the guards are an afterthought compared with the other figures in the painting.
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The opening words of this verse were the cue for the rest of the figures in the mural. Ron thought a great scene would be Christ emerging from the tomb, with many heroes of the faith waiting for Him.
Christ is the central figure of the painting, but there are a host of witnesses gathered on either side of Him. The first on each side is Moses (on the left) and Elijah (on the right). They were the two who were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Isaiah, who promised Immanuel born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) and the suffering Messiah (Isaiah 53) is next to Abraham, the father of nations (Genesis 12) (both on the left). They get to see Immanuel, the Great Descendant of Abraham emerge from the tomb alive.
Elijah, who was transported to heaven without dying (2 Kings 2) and Noah (both on the left), who preached righteousness when no one would listen (Genesis 6), now know that all their effort was well worth it.
Between Elijah and Noah, there is a dove flying past, against the rocks. It is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16), who, with the Father literally raised Christ from the dead, (Romans 6:4, 8:11).
John the Baptist is there (on the right). He saw Jesus at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. He testified that Christ was the Lamb of God. Yet, John later questioned whether Jesus was the One (Luke 7:19). Now he gets to watch Jesus walk out of the tomb … so he knows He’s the One.
Of all the figures, the three kneeling are David (on the left), Esther and Daniel (on the right). They are royalty bowing to the greatest of all Kings!
Each of these witnesses is transparent because they are in another dimension – the heavenly one.
In the right top background is Mt. Calvary, also known as Golgotha, the place of the skull. Above the hill is the hint of a rainbow. The darkness of Good Friday is past. The promise of new life in the resurrection is present, just as God gave Noah the promise of life after the worldwide flood.
As magnificent as all the other witnesses and elements in the painting are, your vision is always drawn back to the center – to Christ. He is stepping out of the tomb, His gaze upward to heaven. The artist wanted to sum up the entire painting in that single gaze – a gaze to the Father that says, “I did it!”


 Christ Is Risen!  He Is Risen Indeed! The Resurrection of Our Lord
After forty days of repentance and prayer, the Church bursts forth in jubilant praise at the Resurrection of our Lord. The alleluias and glorias which were muted for Lent ring out again as the Bride of Christ welcomes her Bridegroom back from the dead. Easter is the pinnacle of the Church Year, the oldest festival and season celebrated by the worshipping Church. For a full week-of-weeks (49 days) the Church celebrates the resurrection of Christ on the Sundays of Easter which culminate on the 50th day, Pentecost.

Worship Theme: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Sinners should fear God. Sinners ought to die for their wickedness. The grave should be the place of ultimate defeat for mankind. Yet on this day, the Second Adam did all that the first had left undone. Bearing our guilt and suffering our verdict, the Son of Man died, but three days later he rose in glory. As a result, fear is gone, mankind is redeemed, and Christ calls us his own brothers. Jesus came from death to life, and through baptism he brings us with him.

Old Testament: Jonah 2:2-9 [Jonah] said: "In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.' 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. 7 "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. 9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD."

1. Was this the prayer Jonah prayed while in the belly of the fish, or are these thoughts that came to him later?

2. What was the real depth of Jonah's misery (verse 4)?

3. Why could we describe Jonah's prayer as a prayer of thanks more so than a prayer of confidence?

Epistle: Colossians 3:1-4 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

4. What does Paul mean when he says, "You died"?  And how is it that our life is now "hidden with Christ in God"?

Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

5. Why did the angel roll back the stone from the tomb?

6. How might the angel's words, "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said," have made the women feel ashamed?

7. Why were Jesus' words "my brothers" so comforting to the disciples?


 Answers:
1. Certainly Jonah wrote the prayer's final form at a later date. The flow of thought, however, is consistent with the thoughts of one who has just had a very close brush with death.  Jonah recounts his hopeless situation and immediately follows that up with his amazing rescue.

2. Jonah was lying on the ocean floor, entangled by seaweed, covered by the swirling sands of the deep.  But that paled in comparison as Jonah felt the seaweed of his terrible sins strangling him, dragging him from the gracious presence of his Lord.  Isn't it ironic that earlier Jonah had tried to flee from his Lord?

3. When the fish swallowed Jonah he wasn't moving from one danger to another.  The fish was a part of the solution.  Jonah's time in the fish was similar to the time Jesus spent in the grave (Matthew 12:39-40).  When Jesus died, his mission was complete.  The grave was not a punishment, but a place to await the Father's exaltation.  So it was for Jonah in the belly of the fish.

4. We died when our sinful connection to this earth was put to death on the cross.  Our life is now in Christ.  That life is hidden to the world that doesn't understand the power of the cross.  We now live each day in eager anticipation of Christ's return in glory.

5. Certainly not to let Jesus out.  It was to prove to the world that Christ had risen.

6. Why were they bringing burial spices for their risen Savior?  Hadn't Jesus told them on several occasions that he would rise on the third day?  It's actually sad to note that crowds weren't gathered there that morning to see the risen Savior.

7. The women walked to the tomb, arms full of spices and hearts full of disappointment. They had come to a place of disappointment, broken promises, and fear. All they had hoped to do was anoint the body of a dead man. A dead Jesus does no good for anyone—not for the women, not for the disciples, not for us. But when the angel spoke, the tomb became a place of victory, a place of promises fulfilled, a place of joy. Do not be afraid! The angel spoke two amazing words, “was” and “is.” Yes, he was crucified, but no, he is not here in the grave. He is very much alive, just as he said. That fact fundamentally changes our relationship with God forever. You can see in it the words of Jesus to the women, “Go and tell my brothers.” Jesus had good reason to remind those men of their desertion. Jesus had good reason to remind them that they were nothing but servants. Instead, he took this moment to call them “my brothers” for the very first time. The living Son of God had made full payment for sin so that he could call us brothers. Mankind is redeemed; death is defeated; fear is conquered. And Christ looks upon us forgiven sinners and calls us his brothers. This is the day the Lord has made!


Putting your faith into action
Because the Lord has led us to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, we are like the women who just could not contain themselves. They had to get to the disciples as quickly as possible to share the good news. It’s also interesting to know the rest of the story regarding those present that first Easter morning. All of them spent the remainder of their lives sharing the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. May our lives reflect the same joy and faith in Jesus’ resurrection.

A reading from the Book of Concord for The Resurrection of Our Lord
The Second Article: Redemption
[I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
What does this mean?  Answer: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He did this not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
The Third Article:  Sanctification
I believe in… the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean?  Answer: I believe that…on the Last Day He will raise up me and all the dead and will give eternal life to me and to all believers in Christ. – The Small Catechism, The Creed

Hymns: 157; 160; 720; 752

720  Christ Jesus Layin Death’s Strong Bands

1  Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand he stands And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of alleluia! Alleluia!  Alleluia!

2  No son of man could conquer death, Such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth, And therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old And ever grew more strong and bold
And held us as its captive.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

3  Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down, His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, he took the crown From death’s pale brow forever.
Stripped of pow’r, no more it reigns; An empty form alone remains;
Its sting is lost forever.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

4  It was a strange and dreadful strife When life and death contended.
The victory remained with life; The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly says That death is swallowed up by death;
Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!  Alleluia!

5  Here the true Paschal Lamb we see, Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—So strong his love—to save us.
See, his blood now marks our door; Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia!  Alleluia!

6  So let us keep the festival To which the Lord invites us;
Christ is himself the joy of all, The sun that warms and lights us.
Now his grace to us imparts Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
The night of sin is ended. Alleluia!  Alleluia!

7  Then let us feast this Easter Day On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

This important and historic Easter text is set to a new tune with the hope of reviving its use within the church.


Text: Martin Luther, 1483–1546; tr. Richard Massie, 1800–1887, alt.

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