Sunday, March 23, 2008

Holy Week - Resurrection and the First Easter

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

Following Jesus' crucifixion, there was not enough time to prepare the body for burial, as the Jewish Sabbath day was approaching. Early on the first day of the week, women went to the tomb of Jesus to complete the rushed burial preparations. Jewish custom of the day was to anoint a dead body will oils and spices and carefully wrap the body prior to entombment. Because of Jesus' hasty burial, the preparations had not been completed. These women, one of whom was Mary Magdalene, went to the tomb at daybreak to complete the task required for proper Jewish burial.

According to the New Testament gospels, the women were astounded to find that the tomb had been opened. The guards that had been placed nearby had fallen asleep and the heavy stone that had sealed the tomb had been rolled away. Mary began to weep for fear that Jesus' body had been stolen. She confronts who she thinks is a gardener standing nearby:

14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!"
- John 20:14-16, 18a
New International Version

For the followers of Jesus, this was the most important moment of their faith; it was the time that Jesus had conquered death and returned to life. It was the point in time in which Jesus became Christ, the Messiah. It was the first Easter.

The resurrection of Jesus remains the focal point for all Christian teaching. Without the resurrection, the Christian faith has little merit according to the Apostle Paul, who, while countering an early apostasy denying the resurrection of the dead, had this to say about the importance of Christ's resurrection:

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
- 1 Corinthians 15:17-19
New International Version

Early artwork was fond of Christian themes. Rich patrons would sponsor artwork for this collections and a very common theme was of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Piero della Francesca is remembered today as an artist, although he studied mathematics and geometry during the early Renaissance. A blending of his mathematical mind and his artistic mind can be found in his well known work Resurrection. This work has been reprinted many times, once on the nearby stamp of Burundi.

In 1971, the Republic of Burundi, a republic located in Central Africa, issued a set of 6-stamp set (3 regular, 3 air mail) featuring paintings of the Resurrection. The 17-franc air mail stamp is shown. It has been assigned Scott catalog number C144, and has a value of $1.10 (USD) for mint, never hinged condition (Scott, 2006).

The mural depicted on the stamp shows Christ emerging from a horizontal tomb while the guards around him have been overcome by sleep. Christ is clearly the center point of the painting; he emerges carrying the Christian banner. He defiantly has one foot planted on the edge of the tomb, as if to declare that he has conquered it, just like the early explorers would lay claim to the lands that they explored.

Although not fully apparent in the cropped version of the mural depicted on this stamp, on the original mural one can notice the mathematical genius of della Francesca. He has Christ appearing as the apex of a triangle, with its sides angling down from his arms, and the base of the triangle showing the sleeping guards arrayed around the ground. By using this geometric construction, della Francesca focuses the eye toward the center of the painting, which is on the emergent Christ.

While the artwork of the Renaissance and earlier artists is not always true to history, it did serve to educate the population with scenes from Christ's life. There is little doubt that Jesus was not buried in a horizontal tomb, as depicted in this artwork, but that he was buried in a tomb carved from rock, much like a cave, which are prominent in Jewish lands. Also, as noted in other artworks for the time, the clothing is more indicative of the 1500s than the New Testament times.

As a special to our Christian readers, this week's Stamps of Distinction blog entries have detailed some small fragments of the final week of Jesus life (Holy Week) as depicted on stamps. With this entry on Jesus' resurrection and the first Easter, this special emphasis on Holy Week comes to a close.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

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