All Saints, Wimbledon
God raised up [Jesus] the third day and showed him openly. Acts 10: 40Ė41
When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Edenís green and gold
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered beneath the leaves, "Itís pretty Ė but is it art?"
You may have read about the exhibition at the Atlantis Gallery in Brick Lane of Professor Gunther von Hagenís work entitled Body Worlds.
Not having seen it, I canít comment on it. But Iím told it consists of images made up of dead human bodies which have been rendered decay-proof by some patent process invented by the professor himself.
Leaving aside all questions of taste and morals, this exhibition raises a fascinating question: Where did von Hagen get his raw material from? And the answer is even more intriguing: So far from having to rob graves like the 18th century anatomists did, people are actually queuing up to be allowed to present their mortal remains to the Professor when they die. In other words they are seeking to become immortal by letting him transform their bodies into artistís materials.
Well, everybody to his own taste as they say; but Iíd rather entrust my body to God who created it, rather than some German professor! For if that unchanging message is true, "God raised up Jesus the third day and showed him openly", which Christians have proclaimed since the first Easter Day, then his task of raising you and me to eternal life must be a comparative doddle compared with von Hagenís efforts to make us immortal.
A doddle providing, that is, that we are willing to be raised in Godís own way and in his own time. For the difficulty which dates back to Adam stems from the fact that Man is always trying to find a better or a quicker or at any rate a different way of making himself immortal, regardless of whether that way is in accord with Godís will or not.
The Resurrection of our Lord is like an artistís canvas, the central one in a series which began with Creation and will end on the Last day. These canvases have been painted by the master artist of all times, God himself. The Divine Trinity has been working together on this masterpiece from all eternity to create this masterpiece, but itís not finished yet.
Naturally you and I would like to know what itís all going to look like when itís finished and, even more important, whether we figure in it as persons and what we shall look like. But the question "Whatís it going to look like when itís finished" is the one question itís no use asking an artist, if only because human words are inadequate to explain which is only known to the mind and wisdom of God. All we have to go by is St Johnís assurance that "when [Jesus] shall appear we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is".
Thatís why an unfinished picture always looks so unsatisfactory to anyone except its Creator who has known from the start what he intends. Remember the story of the little girl who claimed that she was painting God in her sketchbook, and when people told her that nobody had ever seen God so how could they know what he looks like wisely replied "They will know Ė when Iíve finished". Well, her answer to her critics is the same as Godís answer to us.
So the Resurrection of the Body is, to us, like an unfinished picture. Part of the canvas, the Easter area is complete so we can get at least some idea of what the rest is going to look like. But of this we can be quite certain: however it turns out itís going to look a good deal less like what Professor Gunther Hagen has managed to create than it is going to resemble what the four Evangelists have described for us.
Of course there are plenty of people whoíd like to finish off the picture for God here and now, and from this we can guess that the final picture, when it is revealed isnít going to please everyone. From Adam onwards, from birth to death, Godís picture has been stained with blood and tears. In the Last Day, there will, no doubt, still be those who reckon that they could have made a much better job of it than God has. Who knows? Ė God may allow them to spend all eternity trying to improve on what heís painted.
But for Christians the question "Is it true?" is more important than "Is it pretty?" or "Is it Art?", and it is upon those majestic canvases of Godís vision for his creation, with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at their very heart, that our eyes should be constantly focussed.
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