I’ve spent the Lenten period reflecting on a thought-provoking painting entitled ‘Victim, No Resurrection?‘ This was installed at St George’s Cathedral, in Cape Town. I am no Capetonian; a British/Jamaican here on a one-year volunteer placement to South Africa.
I’ve had the privilege to meet the international artist Terry Duffy and I can honestly say I’ve come away feeling inspired and more enlightened. I am moved by his passion to use art to project the pain of human suffering and the various atrocities around the world, thus the reason for his mission to journey this cross to 14 stations around the globe. Cape Town is the sixth station where Veronica, impelled by devotion and compassion, presents her veil to Jesus to wipe His disfigured face.
At first the painting was a mere abstract to me, with a little insight from the Dean – Fr. Michael Weeder that there is a woman on the cross. With its prominent place in the Cathedral, hoisted above the altar, in front of the traditional cross but not hiding its view, the painting was hard to miss. I sought to unravel the mystery of this painting as I visited the Cathedral during mass and the various Lenten discussions. It was during a Mozart Requiem on Good Friday that I find myself listening to the music as I attempted to trace the artist’s hand and brush strokes in a desperate attempt to find meaning in this painting. What is this saying to me? Who is the Victim? Is there a chance of Resurrection? It was at this point I felt I began to connect with the painting and thankfully so as it was to be taken down the next day – Holy Saturday.
The Victim is portrayed as the man, the woman, the child. A red-blooded finger, pointing down to the right as if to draw attention to the child included in the Victim genre and the woman (a mother) looking down with a sullen face as if to say ‘Our children are also victims’ and the man looking in the other direction afraid to come face to face with the reality.
In trying to understand the painting I was inquisitive enough to ask the artist about his experience while painting this. Trying to find out what were his emotions and to get confirmation for my interpretation. Terry Duffy enlightened me with more details of the painting that I missed i.e. the goblet of wine at the foot of the cross and wafers scattered on the dance floor (which I mistook for a wet street reflecting various feet) as if to say we have dismissed the work already done on the cross; Christ sacrificing his body for our body and shedding his blood for our blood. We have trampled on the author of life who has given us life. We have re-enacted the crucifixion making us once again victims instead of victors. We have set aside the grace of God –forsaken the healing that comes through his resurrection.
Galatians 2: 20 – 21 states “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
We have created our own way of doing things, of surviving which has resulted in us becoming victims as stated by the prophet Jeremiah.
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13
In South African context, people are still struggling to come to terms with the pain, the legacy of apartheid. Do we still continue to live as victims or embrace the opportunity and the gift of the resurrection? I am in no way trying to simplify the pain experience by many South Africans. Jesus is our examples in suffering torture, mocked, spat on, nailed to a cross and yes some have suffered to the point of shedding blood.
“But he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12: 3
Do we continue to be suffering Victims or Victors? Using a quote from an article I read on bible.org on suffering victim or victor:
Our perspective changes considerably when we become the participant rather than the observer. To some degree, circumstances do shape our perspective. But our perspective has everything to do with the way we respond to our circumstances. In recent years, our culture has taken a very unhealthy turn, embracing a perspective which predisposes our collapse under life’s adverse circumstances rather than causing us to persevere through them. The essence of this new perspective may be summed up in the word “victim.” No longer are we responsible for our attitudes and actions when we have been wronged or abused—we are now “victims.” Whatever happened is no longer our fault nor are we responsible for the way we choose to respond.
The Scriptures make it very clear that Christians will be the recipients of unjust treatment because of our faith in Jesus Christ and the godly lives we are to live in a sinful world. While the Bible promises that we will experience innocent suffering for the cause of Christ, it nowhere speaks of our being “victims” in the contemporary sense of the word. Rather, the Bible forthrightly speaks of us as “victors.”
Jesus is familiar with our sufferings. He was not only suffered but was tempted in every way. Hebrews 4:15 states “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.”
As I reflected on the painting and post-apartheid South Africa I saw the need for embracing the grace and life Christ has given through his death and resurrection as well as recognising the work of those who have shed their blood, undergo torture to leave the legacy of a new South Africa where all can be free.
I was reading a commentary in the Cape Times recently which states:
For all his remarkable achievements, Nelson Mandela died with his dream for South Africa incomplete – “a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world” .Democracy and peace were attained, yet real racial harmony, social justice and equality seem, in some ways, further away than ever.
Nelson Mandela did not die with his dream of a new South Africa, there are opportunities for resurrection. Let’s embrace this and instead of living as victims emerged like Christ as victors. Instead of trampling on the work already done by others and the cross, let us do as Christ instructed. As we eat this bread and drink this cup we do it in remembrance of me.
St Paul’s desire was to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participate in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10)
Let’s not re-install ourselves as victims but aim to finish the work of Christ on the cross. Just as Christ work is carried on by (us) his disciples so we must finish the work started by Madiba who suffered 27 years of imprisonment.
St Paul summed this up well in Philippians 1:3
“But ….Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
We are no longer victims but victors, more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. We embrace forgiveness as recipients of grace.
Victim? No! …. Resurrection? Yes and Yes!
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee, because by Thy holy cross, Thou hast redeemed the world.