15 September 2008

Danse Macabre and the Beauty of the Resurrection

When I lived in Germany, my parents took me to some of the most famous cathedrals of western Europe - Notre-Dame de Paris, Koelner Dom, and St. Peter's Basilica to name a few. Many of the late gothic cathedrals featured scenes of the final judgment above the doors, and skulls and skeletons were common inside the sanctuary. It was this dark imagery that kept my elementary-schooler self entertained (it was also at this point that I loved Vincent van Gogh because he cut off his ear). I can proudly say that I now find the beauty of these cathedrals outside of their grotesque nature, but the scenes have stayed with me over the past ten to fourteen years.

One of the more interesting things about both judgment scenes ad the medieval "danse macabre" is its reflection of the basic aspect of life: All are alike in death. Kings, bishops, and peasants - all will die. The lifecycle - birth and death - is perhaps the one thing that unites all of humanity. It is the one thing that you cannot forget. God tells Ezekiel to go before the King of Tyre and say,
Will you then say, 'I am a god,'
in the presence of those who will kill you?
You will be but a man, not a god,
in the hands of those who slay you. - Ezekiel 28:9*

No matter how important you are, no matter what you do, you will die. It is part of being human. No matter how famous or plain you are, you are still all too human.

It is in this, the most basic aspect of life, then, that we see something truly extraordinary in the person of Christ - something that allows him to, in the hands of those who slay him, say "I am." As a man, Jesus both was born and died, but not under normal circumstances, for Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, thereby born of a virgin, and was resurrected from the dead. And it is in these two exceptional claims that we see something interesting about Christ - he is most obviously human, if he can be born and killed, but he is so much more. The biological laws, in the end, fail to constrain his divinity.

And it is by clinging to the risen Christ, Son of the Living God, that when it comes time for us to dance with Death, that we can go willingly and secure in the faith that we to will be risen by the One who beat Death. It is by accepting Christ's victory over the physical that Death no longer becomes an end to be feared, but instead is a beginning to be embraced. It is security in the goodness of God that allows us to celebrate at a funeral. it is the knowledge that a better world is on the other side that gives us the courage to follow the example of our Lord and willingly lay down our lives for those around us.

But most of all, it is this very trait that separates Christ from the rest of us, but that allows us to draw close to him.

Rock on.

*Perhaps it is a sign of my short attention span and tendency to ramble, but this post was inspired by reading Ezekiel 27 and 28.

Photo: From Hans Holbein the Younger's woodcut series The Dance of Death. Retrieved on Wikimedia Commons.

No comments: