I have a treat for you this morning. Truly.
For one, it’s proof that my congregation’s littlest children are listening—really listening—to what’s being preached and taught. This should be an assurance for anyone among us who’d question our Christian school or the rites and ceremonies of our liturgies. Our children, more than supported by faithful parents, are taking God’s Word into themselves in the richest ways—ways that equip them not only for steadfastness but for communicating the Gospel with substance. In other words, we’re raising our children to be far more than “Jesus loves you” Christians. They’re ones who can speak of God’s love and then go further into the person and work of Christ, the substance of that love.
Proof of this can be seen in a series of pictures I received after worship last Sunday. The images, five in all, depict the events of Holy Week and the Triduum—from Palm Sunday to Easter. Giselle Graney made them for me. And oh, how wonderful they are!
For the record, Giselle is eight years old. But don’t let that distract you. It’s clear she knew what she was doing. By the way, I went down to the school to ask her about a few of the images’ details just to be sure. I learned she was at home feeling a little under the weather, so I called her mom, Kerry. I asked her to check with Giselle. Sure enough, Giselle was intentional, even with the seemingly inconsequential details. And by the way, what she put into the portraits proves a theological prowess that extends far beyond many adults—the kind of artistic demonstration of Christological depth that one usually only sees among the greats like Caravaggio and Rembrandt.
Give me a minute or two, and I’ll walk you through a few of Giselle’s images. I know you’ll be as blessed. But before I share, there’s one more thing to keep in mind: the rule of interpretation.
A line in The Picture of Dorian Gray comes to mind. This is likely because I recently spent some time in the book looking for another line that fit a paper I was writing. In the volume’s preface, Oscar Wilde writes, “All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.” In other words, when looking at art, you see the details that are actually there. That’s the surface. But there’s always more to it. There’s meaning. Art attempts to make meaning visible. That involves interpretation. That requires the viewer to dig deeper into what he sees. It also involves prerequisite knowledge. Together, there in the substratum, knowledge and meaning challenge the viewer, just as the artist would have it. Giselle has done this masterfully. What’s more, she’s been paying attention to everything she’s heard so far throughout Lent. These images prove her heart is already cemented for the events circling Golgotha’s terrifying hill. And yet, she’s making her way there (and now, she’s taking all of us along) with a firm grasp on everything Golgotha itself makes sure. Even at eight years old, Giselle is demonstrating the heart-shaping power of the Gospel.
She gave me five pictures. I’m only going to talk about four. And I’ll share each before I describe it.
The first one depicts Palm Sunday. What do I like about it? First of all, this is the only picture she drew with Jesus in it—which I’ll get to in a minute. Until then, know she gets Jesus right. It seems most Palm Sunday images are inclined to portray Jesus as jubilant and smiling. And yet, Luke’s Gospel tells us He was crying, saddened that people had no idea what was actually happening, that He was riding forth to die, and that their rejection of Him as the Savior could and would only end dreadfully (Luke 19:28-44). Giselle’s Palm Sunday roadway is festively bright with colorful cloaks and palm branches. But her Jesus is tearfully sad. (See the cropped image above.) Giselle has been paying attention to the intricate details being preached to her. She didn’t just roll along in the usual pace of a springtime smiling Jesus—which I imagine is preferable to many. She showed us the Lord’s concerned heart, even when the world around Him expected an entirely different kind of king. This matters more to the Palm Sunday story than most folks might know.
Another of her portraits that caught my eye was the one detailing Gethsemane. Strangely, as I mentioned before, Jesus is not in it. Then I realized why. Jesus has already been arrested and taken away by the guards. At the picture’s top, there’s a star-filled sky. But beneath this sky, the theme is clearly darkness, as it should be. This is the beginning of hell’s onslaught against Him. Jesus said as much when the troupe approached to take Him away. Giselle heard her Lord say this last Wednesday during midweek worship. “This is your hour,” He said, “and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).
Still looking for Jesus somewhere else in the Gethsemane picture, the viewer only sees where He’s been. On one side, a blood-pocked portion of grass is found beside a tree. That’s where He knelt and prayed, His sweat becoming blood (Luke 22:44). On the other side, a rooster (Matthew 26:34), a sword and a bloody ear (John 18:10), and thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16). Beneath those images, the words: “Jesus shines butier than any star.”
Did you catch that?
Intentionally or unintentionally, Giselle did two things there. First, she combined beautiful and brighter into a single word. When writers do things like that, it’s for emphasis—to draw attention to something. Intentionally or unintentionally, Giselle highlighted a profound point: what Jesus has endured—the betrayal, the suffering, the road to a grisly death—these make for the brightest, most beautiful demonstration of God’s glory (John 12:23-29; Mark 10:35-40). Indeed, Jesus displays a glory that is butier by far than any spinning celestial in the endless sky.
Another image depicts Good Friday. Again, no Jesus. But a moment of reflection determines His location. It is finished (John 19:30). The cross at the center is empty. Jesus is in the sealed tomb to one side. The rest of the portrait reveals a blackened sky (Matthew 27:45), the Father’s hand extended as He gives Jesus over as payment for Sin (Romans 8:32), a torn temple curtain (Matthew 27:51), dice used for casting lots (Matthew 27:35), the centurion’s helmet reverently removed in the presence of God’s Son (Matthew 27:54), a wilting flower (Isaiah 40:8, Romans 8:22) beside other rich images relative to the Lord’s powerful sacrifice. Displayed most prominently are the words, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). These are the first of the seven last words Jesus spoke from the cross. I just preached on these particular words two weeks ago. Giselle was there. She heard the reason they’re first. Amid the gory details, the forgiveness of sins rests at the heart of the terrifying but butier event. That’s why Jesus is doing what He’s doing. He’s winning our forgiveness. It’s His goal. The “them” isn’t just the people attacking Him. It’s us, too. And He never loses sight of us throughout the ordeal. This sentence leads His final string of sentences, serving as the heart for each.
Giselle gets this.
The last image I’ll talk about is incredibly rich. It’s Giselle’s portrait of Easter. Again, no Jesus. But by now, I think I get Giselle’s broader theme, intentional or unintentional. First of all, while we can’t see Him, the risen and ascended Christ has promised, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20. But more important to the Easter narrative’s cadence, Jesus is always a step ahead of His beloved. In other words, the Lord is always out in front, accomplishing what none of us could or would if left to ourselves. We can only follow and discover His wonderful work. Here, in particular, the tomb is open. The sun is shining. The flowers are blooming beneath a beautiful blue sky. Scribed across the skyline are the words announcing what He’s already done, “He I Risen Allauilla!”
Now, before you criticize Giselle’s spelling, give the eight-year-old artist her due. She’s already proven her masterful ways. Did she really misspell some words, or did she find a way to avoid using one in particular since we’re still in Lent? As many who celebrate Lent already know, tradition sets the word aside until Easter. We don’t sing, say, or write it. (Notice, I didn’t use it in this paragraph.) Also, notice it’s not “He is risen,” but “He I risen.”
Okay. She probably misspelled both words. Nevertheless, here’s a chance to apply interpretation born from what’s already been a faithful demonstration of the Gospel. The words she gave us, even if by accident, are asking to be mined more deeply.
Start with “He I risen.” That’s easy. Jesus and Giselle. That’s John 14:19. Because He lives, she will live also. As far as the other, when I saw “Allauilla,” I saw Latin. My Latin is more than rusty, but I think a case could be made for “Alla uilla!” to be translated as “Come on, to the village!” Thinking this way, remember, everything Giselle has presented so far was born from childlike faith listening to and receiving God’s Word. Staying the course, “Come on, to the village!” seems awfully familiar to Easter. If not, then you’ve forgotten Matthew 28:5-8. It’s there we read:
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”
Do you know what I’d say in a moment like that? “Alla uilla! Come on! Let’s go to wherever Jesus is going and find Him!” And sure enough, Jesus is found on the way to the village of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) and then again later that same day in the upper room in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-49).
Giselle has given me so much through these images. I’ll cherish them until I meet face-to-face with the One who inspired them. That being said, I hope you realize how significant the investment for faith made in this little girl has been, not only by her faithful parents but by a congregation intent on preserving the pure preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the right administration of the Sacraments. A church holding to this is invaluable. A Christian school serving as an extension of such a congregation is priceless. I’m absolutely sure that’s Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hartland, Michigan. Behold Giselle’s demonstration and know the labor among us is not in vain.