Signs of Resurrection?

Are there any signs of resurrection in your home or in your church or at your parachurch organization? Signs of the cross? Why is there so little art about the resurrection? 

But Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, in their important study, The Cross is Not Enough, believe there are signs of the resurrection in both popular and high culture works of art. Where do you see signs of the resurrection in art? Question: What are the criteria by which you would be able to say Yes or No to resurrection signs in art? Would you see resurrection in the shift in Clint Eastwood’s character in Trouble with the Curve?

Here is perhaps a better question: How often do we fail to spot a resurrection motif in a work of art because we are so in-attuned to resurrection theology?

But first recall that the crucifix — a cross with the suffering body of Jesus on it — was not the characteristic “cross” of the 1000 years. From the 10th century onwards the dominant “cross” became the crucifix. The Crusades led to an increase in crucifixion art and from the 14th Century art crucifix art became more graphic and grotesque. Early Christian art didn’t depict resurrection; it was often symbolized with the Chi-Rho symbol. (6th Century chi-rho in image above.)

Resurrection has figured in Christian art, including Grünewald’s famous Isenheim Resurrection.

What’s your favorite resurrection song? Do you sing resurrection songs only at Easter? Tones, sounds, noises and pitch — what are the ones that evoke resurrection?

Clifford and Johnson then explore a host of pop culture possibilities: sci-fi films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, or The MatrixHarry Potter and Captain Scarlett. They explore antichrist resurrections in pop culture, as in Alien Resurrection. 

In “high culture” they touch on Crime and Punishment, and The Tale of Two Cities.

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  • “Criteria to say “yes” to a resurrection theme”

    I used to think about “resurrection” as being the surety that death is not the end that allows a person to be joyful in the midst of poor circumstances, but I’ve changes my thinking on this recently. Resurrection is not what happens when despair turns to hope, but when self-sacrifice occurs in the midst of despair, when all is hopeless. Resurrection, to my mind, is true when it springs from pure love that would sacrifice itself for another with no surety of one’s own survival. It is a surprise, not a guarantee. It is simultaneous with death, not after.

    Some examples of “resurrection” moments that have touched me deeply are:

    Harry walking into the forest to be killed by Voldemort in the final Harry Potter book/movie.

    Sam Gamgee carrying Frodo up the side of mount doom in The Return of the King.

    (Yes, I’m a nerd)

    And the final notes of Bob Dylan’s “Ain’t Talkin'” on his album “Modern Times.” The song is plodding, moody, dreary, and hopeless, yet Dylan expresses that he’s going to keep walking in love, choosing to leave the cool garden for the dark wilderness, no matter what, to the end of the world. The final notes are a sparkling major chord and arrive so unexpectedly that it almost brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it.

  • John I.

    “pure love that would sacrifice itself for another with no surety of one’s own survival”, possibly from a human perspective (“no greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for another”), but from God’s perspective there was no doubt about survival and his live is more pure than ours.

  • Kenton

    Nate W. (#1)-

    That’s not resurrection, that’s crucifixion. Those images are Good Friday images, not Easter images.

  • Kenton


    You know, there’s not a lot of “Easter art.” At least none comes readily to my mind. In the dusty cobwebs of my mind are some corny images of post-resurrection Jesus meeting the disciples where He looks more like a ghost (read “gnostic”) than a resurrected human. (Obligatory aureolas are always present.) I wonder, is it harder to paint Jesus resurrected than it is painting him crucified?

    I’ve always thought about the differences between empty crosses usually worn by protestants and crucifixes usually worn by RC’s (at least in my world). Doesn’t the fact that the cross is empty emphasis that Jesus is no longer there? I’m contrarian enough to wear a crucifix to my bible church. To me we need images both of empty crosses and crucifixes.

    Easter music is a different matter. My favorites are “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, and the 2nd Chapter of Acts “Easter Song.” Both are so extraordinarily joyful that Easter is incomplete without them for me.

  • “Window in the Skies” by U2 is my favorite resurrection song. “Christ is Risen, Shout Hosanna” is my favorite Easter hymn.

  • Rob S

    I was always taught what Kenton said, that the protestant cross is empty to represent the Resurrection. I’m not sure if that is historically accurate; is it?

    As for art, I have always liked the Ascension art (which, sort of, also points to Resurrection, doesn’t it?) that only shows Jesus’ feet arising above the disciples. There are many of these, some famous.

    My favorite Easter song that is always played in my Church between Easter to Pentecost is “Up From the Grave He Arose” by Robert Lowrey, a very powerful and moving song. But we sing other Resurrection songs throughout the year, but this one is reserved for the season.

  • fb

    in the movies, i like “whale rider” and disney’s “beauty and the beast.” music-wise, i’m all over the map: from ron kenoly’s “Jesus is alive,” to sandi patty’s “they could not,” to keith green’s version of the “easter song” to wesley’s “Christ the Lord is ris’n today.” and i’m sure there must be something by fred hammond — just can’t think of it right now. 🙂

  • metanoia

    It’s pretty hard to depict a resurrection motif on jewelry or tattoos.

  • Michael

    Funny that you should post this today . . . Just a few hours ago I sent an email to several artists in our church asking them if they would be interested in creating a work of art on canvas to hang in our lobby that was their interpretation of a celtic Cross, resurrection, or communion. As I did it, I thought, “I wonder what they’ll ever do for resurrection?”

    Songs — Matt Maher (catholic song writer) “Christ is Risen”

  • NateW

    I can see what you guys are saying about my examples being crucifixion images rather than resurrection. I guess that in thinking about those scenes I did have the following scenes (Harry returning to defeat voldemort for good, and Frodo waking up to see all his friends in rivendell) in mind, but it also occurred to me that none of these characters did what they did knowing that everything would be ok for THEM. They did what they did so that by their death love and peace would be resurrected for others.

    Given the dangers Christ preaches about those who say “lord, lord” I think that it’s dangerous to place my hope in surety based on belief. My hope can only be pure if it is based on love rising from my death. On my best days I aim to die for others not because I know I’ll be resurrected to heaven, but because I know that by my doing so they may know the love of Christ.

    I think I have tended to presume too much sometimes.

  • Favorite resurrection song – Death is not the end (Bob Dylan)
    Prefer the the Nick Cave version.

  • Kenton

    Nate (#10)-

    That helps.

    So you’re emphasizing the idea that Jesus went to the cross without a certainty of resurrection, and that we do the same, is that right? I’m with you in the sense that we have no iron clad guarantee of resurrection – we take that on *faith* – but our faith is precisely in a resurrected Jesus. He conquered the grave! The tomb is empty! And because He lives, we have the hope of seeing our friends in Rivendell! Yes, it needs to be pure. Yes, we die for others to show the love of Christ. But if I didn’t have that faith in a resurrected Jesus, I don’t think I’d be too eager to show that love of Christ that requires I lay down my life for others. That only comes if my faith informs me that I will participate in the resurrection too.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see your dichotomy as an either/or. It’s a both/and.

  • NateW

    John I. (#2)
    Yeah, I am speaking from a human perspective. I have faith that resurrection will follow dying (whether daily for others, or final physical death) but have no knowledge or absolute certainty.

    I would also consider arguing that if Christ was truly 100% human and 100% God that his experience leading up to the cross was similar. I think that he banked on faith in the power of God’s love, not on knowledge. To say he knew or foresaw that everything was going to be A-OK, seems to me to make “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” a bit melodramatic. He entered with faith, but once in the middle of it all, though still believing with his head, his experience was one of abandonment. That’s why I think that resurrection rises out of one’s willing entry into despair maybe more so than carries us through it. That we are able to, like Harry and Frodo, step into our own doom (or even into an experience of forsakenness and hopelessness) for the sake of others is the highest proof of the truth of Christ’s resurrection that could be. Hence the reason that I see Christ’s resurrection in Harry, Frodo, and even Dylan’s mournful and despairing walk to the world’s end.

  • TJR

    lawernce, i like that song too, but there is also a strong element of apocalyptic judgment “when the cities are on fire with the burning flesh of men just remember that death is not the end” if your on the wrong side you may wish death was the end or as the Carter’s sang “i wouldn’t mind dying it dying was all” About a resurrection sign i think metanoia has a good point. We should also remember that there were no witnesses to the resurrection only its results- empty tomb, appearances of Christ.

  • Mike M

    Gandalf’s return; Aslan’s empty slab. Return of the old lady who gardened in “Night Gallery.”

  • Mike M

    Gandalf’s return; Aslan’s empty slab. Return of the old lady who gardened in “Night Gallery.” John Kinsella in “Field of Dreams” (he did have a body after all).

  • Earlier comments here offer some very interesting suggestions of resurrection signs in pop culture. There is some resurrection art depicting Christ leaving the tomb, appearing to the disciples etc by classic painters like Pieter Bruegel the Elder, El Greco, Ruebens, Rembrandt, and even non-Christian painters of modern times such as Salvador Dali. In church architecture a resurrection analogy comes with the story of St Paul’s Cathedral (London), which has had several “lives” as a building starting in the 600s (built, destroyed by vikings, rebuilt) and the destruction of it in the Great Fire of 1666. Christopher Wren designed the “current” St Paul’s after the Great Fire. When the ruins were cleared a stone dating from the Saxon version of the cathedral was found. Inscribed on the stone: “I will rise again” – an affirmation of the general resurrection. The stone was incorporated into Wren’s building, and out of the ashes of the 1666 fire the Cathedral was “resurrected”. In pop culture many other analogies can be found which we could not fit into the book (space limitations). In the movie franchise of Star Trek the 2nd film ends with the death of Spock. The 3rd film “The Search for Spock” leads Captain Kirk to the artifical planet “Genesis” where Spock’s body was sent in a casket. The casket is unoccupied and a “new” Spock has been born, grows rapidly to maturity, and his “spirit” was implanted in the mind of Dr McCoy. In the new 7th series of the UK sci-fi series “Doctor Who” the recently telecast story “The Power of Three” has one-third of humans die only for the Doctor to resurrect them all back to life. The classic late 1960s British spy series “Callan” (starred Edward Woodward) has the lead character close to death, and the question posed is whether he can “resurrect” his career. Callan’s boss specifically says he will give 3 days to see if Callan can “return”, a colleague says “it will take a miracle”, to which the retort comes “resurrections usually are”. There are many more examples: the challenge is to be alert and spot the analogies as stepping stones to talking about Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

  • There is a fresh analogy for death and resurrection that will be in the cinemas in a matter of a few weeks namely the next James Bond film Skyfall. As I have jotted down elsewhere:
    The plot appears to involve a character named Silva who seeks vengeance on “M” (Judi Dench). The first teasers for the film are now surfacing and intimate that Bond has a death and resurrection-like experience. The pre-credit shows Bond being shot “dead” on top of a moving train and he plummets to his death under water.
    His “death” is just an artifice for story-telling (he does not truly die). Bond needs to appear to the world to be “dead” in order to operate covertly. Nevertheless an analogy for death and resurrection is embedded in Skyfall.
    A snippet in one of the trailers has this exchange of dialogue between Bond and his nemesis Silva:
    Bond: “everybody needs a hobby.”
    Silva: “So what’s yours?”
    Bond: “Resurrection.”
    It may also be that motifs about atonement for “past sins” will be peppered throughout the film. The film trailer shows “M” peering at a computer flat-screen monitor which has this message: “Think On Your Sins”.
    Bond is an amoral action hero figure but it is fascinating that the 50th year of Bond films witnesses a death-resurrection motif in the plot-line!

  • metanoia (#8) remarks about the difficulty of depicting the resurrection in jewellery and body-art (tattooing). What about an empty sarcophagus? At a conceptual level one could look at analogies and images of resurrection in creation (natural world) as inspiration for jewellery. To anticipate a possible future post by Scot: check out chapter 6 of The Cross Is Not Enough for analogies from nature and myth: the Phoenix (alluded to by Clement of Rome and many later church fathers); the dolphin rising out of the water; Noah’s Ark (a symbol of church; a symbol of baptism = baptism we are buried and rise with Christ; in Gen 6-9 the natural world “dies” and rises to new life). The general resurrection of the dead is shown in the deck of Tarot cards on the card “Judgment” (angel is depicted blowing the last trump and bodies arise from graves). In speaking about proclaiming the message of the resurrection Edgar Krentz has written that we “need to ransack our imaginations for adequate images to express it”. And Rob (#6): the empty cross is actually a pre-Reformation symbol which did connote resurrection but in the passage of time we have tended to have “amnesia” about that. Cross-imagery (whether empty or crucifix) tends to morph into people in the modern era contemplating suffering and death at the expense of the “new day, “new life” and “new creation” motifs of the resurrection. It has also tended to reinforce the thought that the “cross-alone” is the central theological point of Easter, which is not how the apostles understood it or preached the good news.

  • John

    Do a google search on “kenneth clark no crosses in early christian art dallas willard spirit of the disciplines” – this should take you to p.34 of Willard’s book at the google books online excerpting of the book.

    Near the top of p.34 is Willard’s chapter section – “Why the late emergence of the cross”