The Crucifixion and Resurrection Reflection

These Icons were both commissioned by Father Bill Carroll. I would like to share his important reflection on the icons for Holy 2022:

"These two icons were conceived as a matched set, and I keep them side by side in the room where I sleep and pray, so that they are the first thing I see every morning and the last thing I see every night. I am convinced that they are among the most luminous of Kelly Latimore’s icons, even as they aim to subvert the deadly dualism of light and darkness in the Christian tradition.

The icons provide a meditation on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the work of the liberator God of Exodus. They serve to remind us that God has taken the side of oppressed people everywhere and that God is still struggling for human freedom. They are intended as companions on an ongoing journey of prayer, repentance, and discipleship.

They were commissioned not long after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. But the immediate impulse came from the death of James Cone in 2018. Cone has been a constant theological companion of mine since seminary, and I am interested in reading him in conversation with womanist theologians (especially Delores Williams, Jacqueline Grant, Kelly Brown Douglas, and M. Shawn Copeland)—some of them his students, colleagues, and friends, many of them quite critical of some aspects of his work. It was Cone who first taught me that “Jesus IS Black, because he WAS [an oppressed] Jew.”

These icons are meant to bring to mind Cone’s seminal work The Cross and the Lynching Tree. It is important for me to do so without making a spectacle of historical Black suffering. (Compare the controversy around Dana Schutz’s painting “Open Casket.”) And so, I asked Kelly to make his point of departure two older images (an El Greco painting of the crucifixion and an Orthodox icon of the resurrection), but to make the composition and other details his own and to portray Jesus and his disciples with African-American features. And so, taking their inspiration from the historic witness of the Black Church to Jesus Christ’s own solidarity with Black people, the icons make clear the Blackness of Jesus and the deep connection of his life and praxis (which come into sharpest focus in the story of his suffering, death, and resurrection) to the Black freedom struggle, as well as to other historic movements for freedom, justice, and human dignity.

For me, serving as a priest in a country with a history of slavery, lynching, and other forms of white supremacist violence, it is of crucial importance to make the deep connection (as Cone does) between lynching and the crucifixion of Jesus. Both are public acts of torture and murder, intended to terrify and subject other human beings and keep them in their so-called “place.” It is equally important to have images to pray with to encourage the ongoing process of conversion needed to make us more effective allies and participants in today’s struggles.

And yet, this is by no means the end of the story—for Jesus or for humanity. It is equally important to represent Jesus rising in power and restoring the bonds of life-giving fellowship, in a community defined by love and set free from all forms of domination and violence. In the icon, we can see Jesus encounter Mary Magdalene and other disciples ALIVE on the other side of suffering and death.

There are signs of his passion (note the whiteness of his wounds) and the violent world of Empire (past and present). At the same time, the gates of hell and bondage are shattered by the power of his life. And his community and relationships are reestablished on the other side of suffering, death, and the grave. The risen Jesus invites us to share his victory and his ongoing mission in the world—and therefore invites us into genuine forms of solidarity and liberatory praxis that are Good News for the oppressed, first and foremost, but then also for the whole world. Because in the words of Dr. King, “No one is free, until we are all free.” Or as Kelly Brown Douglas has expanded on this notion with particular emphasis on a womanist commitment to total liberation:

"A social-political analysis of wholeness urges womanist scholars to remain in solidarity with their oppressed sisters around the world. It seeks a world where all women, indeed all humanity, live together in relationships of mutuality. It is grounded in the dictum that “No woman is free, if all—that is, men and women—are not free.”

 

James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1975), p. 123. James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011). Kelly Brown Douglas, The Black Christ, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2019), p. 122.

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