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Seeing the resurrection as unfinished business

Christ's resurrection is one of the most popular subjects in the history of art. After all the centuries, though, it's a challenge to find ever new ways of representing an event at which there were no witnesses. This Easter, we have a radically original depiction on page one, a stylized drawing by NCR proofreader Pierre Jorgensen. Asked for an explanation, he said:

"Imagine Jesus, still in death, yanked abruptly awake. In the last few hours of his life as a man, his back had been flayed to shreds, his scalp ripped open by thorns, his wrists and ankles torn by metal spikes, his side slashed with a lance. He has died slowly of thirst and sheer physical trauma but has had the respite of death. Now, his wounds open again, and the horror of the preceding days fills his eyes and ears, if only for a brief moment.

Then there is, maybe, a flash of light, a violent tug, momentary agony. Maybe he fights it, wanting to lie down again. Or, more likely, he rises above it -- and there follows absolute relief and peace as he joins God."

Of course it didn't happen exactly like that -- whatever happened is wrapped in mystery. But there is here a leap of imagination to grasp some spiritual reality. It catches the continuity between crucifixion and resurrection. It hints not so much at the more commonly confident Christ with a flag in his hand that echoes a triumphalist church; it reflects rather the unfinished business of ongoing Easter.

Pam Schaeffer's page one story offers another angle on Easter as a movable feast. The early Irish Christians carried on a hectic, centuries-long battle with Rome over the date of Easter. The resurrection has consistently been a sign of contradiction and bone of contention.

A poem by Elizabeth Cheney captures this unfinished business aspect. Finding Jesus on the cross, unable to get down, the poet -- who presumably speaks for us all -- volunteers to take the nails out:

But he said: "Let them be,
For I cannot be taken down
Until every man, every woman and every child
Comes together to take me down."

What can I do in the meantime, the poet wants to know. The answer is obvious:

Go about the world --
Tell every one that you meet,
"There is a man on the cross."

And he is in the throes of rising from the dead.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, March 28, 1997