Friday, April 27, 2012

While I'm Thinking Of It


Reply to this post with your name and mailing address, I will not publish your information. I will forward it to the publisher and they will mail you a shiny new paperback copy of the Common English Bible, all for free!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

National Workshop on Christian Unity


It has been almost a week since my return from Oklahoma City. I hit the ground running when I got back. Catching up on work has kept me from updating this blog. Until now.

In the comments to this post, Victoria Gaile was nice enough to ask for "a summary 'now that I'm home, here's what I thought' post." So, here goes. Victoria, this one's for you.

I spent four pleasant and harmonious days among Christians, some of whom I have deep and substantial disagreements with on matters of doctrine. The ordination of women, homosexuality, the meaning of the Sacraments, the interpretation of Scripture, and so on and on. These are real issues that divide us which cannot be, and were not, ignored.

So often my encounters with fellow Christians are unpleasant. The NWCU was not.

I scribbled lots of notes during the Workshop. Among them is a question that occurred to me: "Do all Christians have a vision of Christian unity?" I think that the answer must be "Yes." For some Christians unity would mean that all believers march in lockstep with their particular brand of doctrinal orthodoxy. As if doctrinal orthodoxy is what saves us.

Doctrine is important, of course, but to insist that others adopt our doctrine is fundamentally unloving. Love, I believe, is the ultimate orthodoxy.

An analogy: my brother and I had different relationships with our father. Why would I expect all Christians to have precisely the same relationship to God in Christ as my own?

It is unrealistic to expect that all Christians will have precisely the same doctrine. The New Testament reveals that the early Church was not of one mind in all matters. New Testament orthodoxy is large enough to encompass both Paul's Gentile Christianity and the Jewish Christianity of James. The New Testament contains both Matthew and Luke. Their unity, finally, is not in doctrinal conformity, but in the cross of Christ.

Divisions in the body of Christ are real, but the National Workshop on Christian Unity shows that Christians of various denominations can live together in harmony and work together in cooperation.  We do not need to be in full agreement. We need only be respectful, kind, forgiving, and charitable.

It's a pity that so many of us find that so difficult.

Illustrating this post is a photograph of the cross that I bought in an Oklahoma City gift shop.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Long Way Home

"The first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion is to take off our shoes. For the place we are approaching is holy. Else we will find ourselves treading on people's dreams. Worse, we may forget that God was there before our arrival." -- Episcopal Bishop Kenneth Cragg

That quote was included in this morning's Bible study on Ephesians 1:18 by Bishop Teresa Snorton of the Christian Methodist Episcopal church. It represents, I think, the most responsible way to approach ecumenical, interfaith and inter-religious dialogue.

What's the difference?

Ecumenical dialogue takes place among Christians.

I've heard "interfaith" defined two ways. It either means dialogue among Christians and Jews who share some Scriptures in common, or, more inclusively, among the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Inter-religious dialogue would include every religion.

Bishop Snorton's Bible Study was delightful. Her approach to the Scriptures is different than mine. She had me using my iPad to look at various versions and even two editions of the Greek New Testament to see where she was getting her points from. In the end, though our approaches differed, our conclusions were very much the same. There may be a lesson in that.

We stood and paused for a moment of silence at 9:02 AM, the time at which, 17 years ago today, the bomb exploded at the Murrah Federal Building killing 168 people. The Bishop stopped mid-sentence for this remembrance.

Bishop Snorton spoke gracious words about "Risking Change to Create Unity." This, she said, requires a both/and theology. An either/or theology limits our choices and options while a both/and theology expands choices an options.

The last address of the Workshop was a challenging talk titled "The Hope of Our Calling Is Exceeding Our Expectations" by African Methodist Episcopal Bishop John White.

I ate lunch with a table of Roman Catholic priests feeling very much like the dog in the manger. Then I visited a gift shop to buy a cross that I will hang over my desk.

About 2:00 this afternoon I caught the shuttle to the airport where I am sitting, once more "secure" inside the TSA perimeter, writing these words.

My flight leaves in about 1-1/2 hours. Plenty of time for a cup of coffee...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And Now The Day Is Done

Since my last brief update I have attended the final plenary session of the Lutheran Ecumenical and inter-religious Representatives Network, a meeting that was devoted mostly to business.

Then I hiked over to the Oklahoma City Memorial and briefly toured the hauntingly beautiful, achingly sad ground. Tomorrow, April 19, will be the 17th anniversary of the bombing, an act of domestic terrorism, that destroyed the Murrah Federal building and killed 168 people.

A group of us gathered across the street around a statue of Jesus weeping on ground once occupied by the parish house of St. John's Catholic Church. There we held a service of prayer.

Next we toured the Museum which tells the story of that tragic day and its aftermath. I got a little choked up more than once. The Oklahoma City bombing is a testament to the depths of human depravity and a witness to the courage, the goodness, and the faithfulness of which our kind is capable.

I ate a few hors d'ouevres at a reception following the Museum tour. I listened to 1-1/2 of the three speeches that were made but then finally hit my limit and slipped out quietly to walk back to the hotel.

Tomorrow will be the last events of the 2012 National Workshop on Christian Unity and another long day of travel to get home.

I think I'll finish this glass of wine, do a little packing, and get some sleep.


Midafternoon Update

I would need to check this out, but I heard someone say that, at the National Workshop on Christian Unity, the denominational networks meet apart more than together. If this is true, it's ironic.

I did, however, just come from a joint meeting of the Lutheran, Episcopal, and Methodist networks.

The Roman Catholics met separately during this time. Someone called this "the elephant in the (other) room."

We do what we can together.

I've said the Nicene Creed twice in worship now. Both times with the filioque clause (Google it). Is it any wonder the Orthodox are not represented?

Another comment heard at the last session: "It's easy for Mainliners to talk to one another. The real divide in Christianity is between the Mainline and Evangelicals."

Midday Report


• When I get home I will have to repair the many typos in these posts from Oklahoma City.

• This hotel has the best elevator music. This morning I heard Billie Holiday as I rode from floor 12 down to 2. I thought for a moment about riding back up just to hear the rest of the song.

• Meanwhile back home the city comptroller was arrested, charged with embezzling $30 million in 6 years!

Once the couple in the next room quieted down, I got a night of sound sleep. Breakfast this morning was sponsored by the National Council of Churches. NCC reps announced that the Council is reorganizing. I ate with a table of Episcopal priests who counted up the number of times the NCC had reorganized within their memory: 4.

After a brief Morning Prayer led by a Roman Catholic bishop, I attended a seminar on Ecumenical Advocacy. The speaker was dynamic, but the topic didn't apply to me as much as I had hoped.

Over lunch, Episcopal Bishop Steve Charleston, a person of Choctaw heritage, gave a wonderful talk about Racism and Catholicity. He introduced himself as a "good news preacher. The good news is I'm not long-winded." His talk was, if anything, too brief. He reminded us that religious traditions that are closed and set are death-dealing.

That was a paraphrase.

After lunch I had the first real hour of free time that I've had since I hit the ground. So, I've updated my blog with this midday report.

Tonight I will visit the Oklahoma City bombing memorial and museum with a group from the NWCU. I'm looking forward to it.

And now, once more into the fray...

Individuals v. Committees


Most popular Bible translations are the work of committees, but there have been many versions made by individuals. Some of these have been influential, some popular, some just weird.

Late in the 4th century, St. Jerome produced the Vulgate, a translation of the Bible from its original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic into the common language of the day, Latin.

In the 16th century, Martin Luther translated the Bible from its original languages into vernacular German, so that the common people could understand the Scriptures for themselves.

At about the same time, William Tyndale published a complete English New Testament, translated from the Greek. He also translated parts of the Old Testament.

In more recent times, Robert Young made Young's Literal Translation (1862) into English that scrupulously reproduced the verb tenses and other grammatical idiosyncrasies of the original languages. (English verb tenses do not correspond exactly to those of Hebrew and Greek).

R.F. Weymouth made a fussy, old-fashioned English translation of the New Testament in 1903.

In 1924, James Moffatt's New Translation rendered both Testaments into "effective, intelligible English."

Edgar Goodspeed translated the New Testament into very readable English in 1913. An Old Testament by 4 other scholars was added in 1924 and published as The Complete Bible: An American Translation.

Ronald Knox translated the Vulgate into lovely English. His version, with imprimatur, was published in 1948.

J.B. Philips published a fun, loose, popular, and highly readable translation of the New Testament in 1957.

In 1959 came the conservative Berkley Version, with New Testament by Gerrit Verkuyl and Old Testament by a team of U.S. translator.

Australian classicist Ann Nyland published her translation The Source New Testament with Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning in 2007. It was controversial for the translator's handling of passages regarding homosexual intercourse and the role of women in church, home, and society.

I have hard copies of most of these Bibles and electronic copies of the rest.  I have made use of them all from time to time.

I've heard it said that translations made by committee are more trustworthy than those made by individuals. A team effort is less likely to reflect the translator's biases. I observe, however, that translation committees are just as likely to have biases as individuals. The New English Translation (NET) was largely the work of scholars from Dallas Theological Seminary, a conservative school with a inerrantist view of Scripture. The popular English Standard Version (ESV) was made by a committee that was heavy on Calvinists and complimentarians (i.e. Christians who do not allow women roles of leadership in their churches). My own go-to Bible, the New Revised Standard Version  was produced by a team of scholars with what I would call an academic bias.

In short, committees can be just as biased as individuals.

I found Caravaggio's dramatic painting of St. Jerome at the website of the Ronald Knox Society.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Minister, A Rabbi, And An Imam...


I usually sleep poorly my first night in a hotel room. Not last night. Last night I closed my eyes and lapsed into a deep and dreamless 9 hour slumber.

I woke this morning to a long day of meetings. We're packing a lot into the time we have here.

Breakfast was sponsored by the Blackmoor Institute. You'll have to Google it. This blogger app is kind of Spartan. I could probably make the links, but I'm too tired to fuss with it.

After breakfast, I attended a session on the Art of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Dialogue led by an affable Roman Catholic priest named Leo Walsh. There were many things I learned but let me cite just one. Fr. Walsh invoked the Lund Principle: "Churches should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel then to act separately." Or, "What we can do together, we should do together."

Today's keynote address was a talk on the history and legacy of Vatican II after 50 years. The speaker, John Borelli was engaging and scholarly. He reminded us that the results of the second Vatican Council are still being lived out.

A panel discussion over lunch looked, among other things, at the effects of Vatican II on other church bodies.

Then I attended a session led by a rabbi, an imam and and Methodist pastor on "Reading Each Other's Scriptures." This was a highlight of my day. It was good to see people of different religious traditions interact with respect and good humor.

Next was a meeting of LERN in which we discussed the so-called "Lima Document," a 30 year old "convergence document" that outlined broad areas of agreement among various Christian denominations on the subjects of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. Again, Google it.

The day's last event was a joint Episcopal/Methodist Communion service at St. Paul's Cathedral. It was cool.

I feel fortunate to be here among intelligent, articulate and civil people who are committed to actualizing the unity of God's diverse people.

Good night!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Down To Earth

The sun shone bright in a clear sky as the little jet dipped into a landscape of red soil intersected by a brown river.

If that sentence is overwritten it's because I'm really, really tired. My flight to Oklahoma City was 50 minutes late in arriving. Further delays on the ground meant that I missed the first event of the Lutheran Ecumenical and inter-religious Representatives Network (LERN) gathering: lunch. I finally had a granola bar and a bottle of Dr. Pepper around 3:30 this afternoon.

My afternoon was filled with meeting new friends and catching up with an old one. There was a lengthy meeting where I got to hear about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's ecumenical and inter-religious activities of the last year.

I'm proud to be a part of a church that works toward actualizing our unity in Christ. The ELCA has full Communion agreements with 6 other church bodies and is in ongoing conversation with several others.

This evening I attended the opening worship of the National Workshop on Christian Unity. Participants in the service included Lutherans, Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and I hope I haven't forgotten anyone!

The homily was given by the Most Rev. Paul Coakley, archbishop of Oklahoma City. He spoke about the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. He talked about "deeper unity in truth and charity." Perhaps most tellingly he addressed this diverse group as "My dear brothers and sisters in Christ...."

We worshiped there in a unity that was not born of shared doctrine or common practice. It was not a unity of polity or theology or institutional cohesiveness. We worshiped together in a commitment, rather, to the same Lord, and in a desire to obey Jesus' command, somehow, to love one another.

And so to bed.

Up In The Air

I am typing these words into an iPad while flying over America's heartland, en route from my home in Illinois to Oklahoma City where I will spend the next several days at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) and the concurrent meeting of the Lutheran Ecumenical and inter-religious Representatives Network. (LERN) I am finally beginning to look forward to the event. Up to this point I have mostly just been dreading the travel. You see, I haven't been on an airplane in more than 20 years and I really didn't enjoy it much then.

Airplanes might be a comfortable form of transportation for people less than 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. I'm a little larger than that in every dimension. Beside that my sitbones are beginning to ache. I hope not to find out, but I suspect that this seat cushion works better as an emergency flotation device.

I was up this morning at 4:00 to drive 50 miles to catch a bus that took me to the airport by 7:45 to catch my flight by 9:10. The flight, naturally enough, was delayed. A late arrival and mechanical issues conspired to delay take-off. Headwinds are further slowing things down. It looks as if I'll be late for lunch.

Passing through the TSA checkpoint at O'Hare Airport was not as unpleasant as I anticipated. I had to empty my pockets, take electronics out of my bags, remove my shoes and belt, and submit to a body scan. The TSA personnel were professional and courteous, though more efficient than friendly. That, come to think of it, is probably for the best.

Waiting at the gate, I pondered the compromise between liberty and security that post 9/11 America has made. From the moment I was passed through the TSA checkpoint, I have existed in a hermetically "secure" environment. I couldn't carry more than 3 ounces of liquid through security but bought a 25 ounce bottle of water on the other side.

I paid $25.00 to check a bag that I could have carried on, just so I could have a pair of scissors and a bottle of hair conditioner when I reach Oklahoma City. I may ditch these things before my return flight.

The captain just announced that we will be beginning descent and 25 ounces of water have left me feeling saturated, so I'd best make my way to the rear of the plane before the seat belt light comes on.

Blessings from 20,000 feet.

Another Week. Another Bible...


If you would like to be the happy recipient of this week's paperback edition of the Common English Bible, just be the first to reply to this post. Give me your name and address so I can forward them to the publisher who will then send you a spanky new CEB with that fresh Bible smell we all love!

I will not publish your personal information. I promise!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Now, Look...

The last time I tried to give away a Bible, no one bit. So, let's try it again. If you would like a FREE paperback copy of the Common English Bible respond to this post. Give me your name and mailing information. I will not publish your personal information or misuse it in any way.  I will just forward it to the publisher so that they can send you your Bible.

The Common English Bible is a new and highly readable translation of the Scriptures. It includes a nice set of maps produced by National Geographic. And did I mention that it's free?

First reply to this blog gets it. I'll have another one to give away next week.

Thursday, April 12, 2012



A significant factor that distinguishes the many English versions of the Bible one from another is equivalence. Some versions of the Bible are translated according to a philosophy of formal equivalence while others are made according to a principle of dynamic equivalence.

Formal equivalence is sometimes called "literal" or "word-for-word" translation. A formally equivalent translation is relatively transparent to the source language reflecting, to the extent that it is possible, the grammatical structure and even word order of the original.

Strict formal equivalence is not really possible. Wtords in the source language may not have a precise equivalent in the target language. That is, words in different languages have different ranges of meaning. Some words are untranslatable. In Greek there are little words called "particles" that add emphasis, for example, or "iffy-ness" o a sentence but which cannot be reproduced in English. Greek also employs double negatives which, if rendered literally, result in ungrammatical English. Word order is also used very differently in Greek than in English.

As an example, here is a very literal rendering (it can't really be called a translation) of Romans 12:9-10 from the Greek:

The love unhypocritical. Loathing the evil, sticking-like-glue to the good, in brotherly-love to one-another persons-with-familial-affection; in honor one-another persons-who-go-before....

Dynamic equivalence is sometimes described as thought-for-thought translation. The idea of dynamic equivalence is to render the meaning of the source text into the target language with less concern for the actual words and grammar of the original. Dynamic equivalence translations tend to be freer, more idiomatic and more natural than formally equivalent translations. I think it is safe to say that they are also more interpretive. The success of a dynamic equivalence translation depends in large measure on the translator's understanding of the source text.

Here is Romans 12:9-10 from the New American Standard Bible, a high formal equivalence translation:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor....

And for comparison, from the Common English Bible, a much more dynamically equivalent translation:

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other....

The translation philosophies of formal and dynamic equivalence both have their strengths and weaknesses. English readers, with hundreds of versions available to them, are probably fortunate that they don't have to choose a single type of translation. When I teach my New Testament class in the Diakonia program, I require my students to write paper explaining a passage of Scripture. I always tell them to compare the passage in several versions.

Some of the more formally equivalent English translations of the Bible include the King James Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible and the New King James Verson.

Dynamic equivalence translations include the Good News Translation, the Contemporary English Version, the New Living Translation and the Common English Bible.

The New Revised Standard Version and the New International Version steer a middle course, with the NRSV leaning toward formal equivalence and the NIV family favoring dynamic equivalence.

I don't usually illustrate my blog with my own photographs. Perhaps you can see why.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Blessed Easter!

On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him.

He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.

The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”

 He said to them, “What things?”

They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet.  But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.  We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”

 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

Luke 24:13-33 is quoted from the Common English Bible. Rembrandt's sketch of the Jesus and the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus came from this website.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rachel Is Weeping For Her Children



The third and last of our depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus from the Art Institute of Chicago is a 60-3/4 x 55 inch oil on canvas painting by Marc Chagall, The White Crucifixion. This painting is notable for jewel-like colors which were so much a hallmark of Chagall’s style.

A Russian-born citizen of France, Chagall was the 20th century’s premiere Jewish artist. His works are filled with Jewish themes and symbolism.

It is perhaps surprising that Chagall would paint a crucifixion, though he depicted the scene several times. It is not surprising that his Jesus is thoroughly Jewish. His head is covered, as is required of observant male Jews. The traditional loincloth protecting Jesus’ modesty is, in this painting, a prayer shawl.

Above Jesus’ head is the inscription INRI. An artists’ convention, the letters abbreviate the Latin phrase Iesous Nazarenus, Rex Iudorum (Jesus of Nazereth, King of the Jews). Just below that the same phrase is written out fully in Hebrew. I take the inscription to be unironic. Chagall intends this Jesus to be the arch-exemplar of Jewish identity.

Arranged around the cross are scenes of 20th century persecution of Jews. A Russian shtetl is overturned and burning. Refugees languish in an overcrowded boat. A brown-shirted Nazi loots a burning temple. At the foot of the cross are figures fleeing violence: A woman clutches an infant. A man cradles a Torah scroll. A man with a placard hung around his neck gestures in confusion and despair. A figure in a green coat, carrying his possessions in a sack, runs toward the viewers’ right. This last figure is seen in many of Chagall’s works. Some say that he represents the prophet Elijah, others the Wandering Jew. Chagall’s symbols are often ambiguous or multivalent.

Floating above the cross, looking on in horrified sorrow, is a quartet of heavenly witnesses. The men may be the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The woman might represent Rachel, the mother of Jacob, and figuratively, of all the Jewish people.

Thus says the Lord:
     A voice is heard in Ramah,
          lamentation and bitter weeping.
     Rachel is weeping for her children;
          she refuses to be comforted
          for her children,
               because they are no more.
                        (Jeremiah 31:15)

A shaft of light falls upon the cross. In Christian iconography this might represent redemption, but this is not a Christian painting. There is nothing redemptive in all this suffering. The radiance is rather a heavenly spotlight shining upon what has been done to Jesus and to all the Jewish people.

Painted in 1938, the White Crucifixion was Chagall’s reaction to the atrocities being committed against his people. As a Christian, I see in this painting a call to repentance for the way that my faith has contributed to violence against God’s chosen people; a challenge to stand up for those who are persecuted; and a reminder that the crucified Jesus suffers with all who suffer.

Today is Good Friday. In church we will pray for “the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God.” We will say: “Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and your teaching to Moses. Hear our prayers that the people you called and elected as your own may receive the fulfillment of the covenant’s promises.”

Today is also the first day of Passover. I wish my Jewish friends a glad and blessed Pesach.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Christ, And Him Crucified


The second of three images of Jesus' crucifixion from the Art Institute of Chicago for this Holy Week is an oil painting by 17th century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán. At just over 114 x 64 inches, this canvas is imposing. Every time I see it, it stops me in my tracks.

Zurbarán employs a standard iconography, and this painting is remarkably similar to others of the period, such as that by his patron Diego Velázquez.

This crucified Christ is serene. The image owes more to John's Gospel, where the Lord Jesus is absolutely in charge up to the moment of his death when he proclaims “It is finished,” than to the agonized and human Jesus of Mark's Gospel who cries out “My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Though evidently dead, Zurbarán's Jesus seems to stand upright, more supporting himself then hanging from the cross.

Still, Renaissance realism is the order of the day. This Christ has no halo.

The work is masterful, painterly and perhaps a bit show-offy. See how realistically the artist renders the human form. See how well he has mastered the play of light and dark. See how accurately he represents the textures of the wooden cross, the iron nails, the scrap of paper beneath Jesus' feet that bears the artist's signature, the excessively large and billowy loincloth. (Zurbarán was apparently noted for his rendering of white cloth!)

The impenetrably black background is a reminder of the darkness that, according to the Synoptic Gospels, “fell over the whole land” when Jesus hung on the cross. It also serves to focus the viewer's attention on the painting's sole subject.

I think that the artist has put all of his technique into the service of a message. Like the Apostle Paul, Zurbarán proclaims only “Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012



The Art Institute of Chicago is one of my favorite places in all the world. It houses a remarkable collection of art treasures ranging from the ancient to the postmodern. For this Holy Week, I would like to share my reflections on three images of Jesus crucifixion from that collection.

First is a work by 15th century Italian artist Carlo Crivelli. Measuring 29-1/2 x 21-3/4 inches, it is not a large work. Painted in tempera on wood, the scene has a golden quality. The setting is a barren and fantastic landscape. In the near distance is the city of Jerusalem.

The cross, is front and center. Christ, dead or nearly so, wears his crown of thorns. The artist has wrapped him in a traditional loincloth. This bit of modesty was probably not afforded to the actual victims of crucifixion.

Flanking the cross are Mary, the mother of Jesus, clothed in her traditional blue-and-rose robes, and St. John, the son of Zebedee, their faces etched with grief. There is a long standing assumption that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” mentioned in the Fourth Gospel was this John. He is depicted here as a beardless youth. Tradition has it that John was the youngest of Jesus’ twelve disciples, and the only one to live into old age, the rest (excepting Judas, of course) all dying as martyrs.

In the Gospel of John 19:26-27, we read that Jesus, seeing his mother and the beloved disciple from the cross, said, first to Mary, “Woman, here is your son.”

Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

At the foot of the cross, a new community was formed, a fictive kin group, a family based not on blood relationships but on loyalty to Jesus.

A curious detail in this painting is a human skull at the base of the cross. The hill on which Jesus was crucified was called “Golgotha,” an Aramaic word meaning “the place of a skull.” This point is mentioned in all four Gospels.

A legend has it that the skull was that of Adam, the father of all humankind. The sin of Adam and Eve infects all of humanity. The cross of Jesus is God’s remedy for our sinfulness.

As the blood of Christ runs down the cross, it washes over Adam’s skull, symbolically baptizing him, and by extension, all of his children. The cross of Jesus is meant for the salvation of all people.