Seizing Us Out of the Shadows
May 7, 2015
by David Sibley
(The Anastasis, Chora Church – Istanbul. Photo by the author.)
The Chora Church, sitting outside of the old city portion of Istanbul, is famous for its mosaics. Dating from 1312, they attract a swath of tourists year after year. In a side chapel – often overlooked by tourists in their rush through the church and onto the next site in the city – is not a mosaic, but a large fresco of the resurrection. The image served as a potent reminder of Jesus’ rising from the grave in a room that was once a burial chamber. On a recent vacation, I found myself in this quiet room, gazing at the fresco.
It is classic Byzantine imagery. Christ, triumphant over death and the powers of hell, seizes Adam and Eve, drawing them out from their tombs, raising them to new life. When I first came upon the image, I rushed to take a photograph. I moved through various angles, only to find that the lighting in the room made it impossible to capture the image without a shadow. I would move to the left or the right, I would tweak the exposure – but the shadow remained, leaving a semi-circular arc over half of the photograph. Adam and Eve, it seemed, would remain partially obscured, as the lighting erected to give visitors a better view of the image would paradoxically ensure that, at least in photograph, the fresco would remain partially in shadow.
It wasn’t until later in the day, when I looked over my pictures back in my hotel room, that I was overwhelmed by the photo – shadow and all. We see, as Paul writes, “as through a glass, dimly” in this life – catching glimpses of the light and power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead even as we dwell, and often remain, in the shadows of everyday life. Whether we like it or not, the shadows are often an all too comfortable a place for us. For me, anxiety about the way things are often seizes me in such fear that I never am able to consider the great possibility of what may be; terror at the possibility of emerging from the place I know – from the comfortable shadows into a transforming brightness leaves me quite happy to stay right where I am, thank you very much. The dim glass, it seems, is often quite suitable enough in my imagination, the shadows quite friendly, the place I stand, all too comfortable.
This must be why Jesus doesn’t simply call Adam and Eve out of their graves in the image – but instead, he grabs them, seizes them, forces them from their places. The risen Jesus will have nothing of our desire to remain in the shadow and comfort of the grave – he seizes us, takes hold of us, grabs us and pulls us through death into the brightness of a restored and renewed life. And not only does it once, but does it over and over and over again. God loves you too much, the saying goes, to let you remain where you are. The Risen Jesus will have none of our comfort with the shadows – and draws out and beyond them, into his life, and the life of a new and redeemed world.
Consider the comfortable shadows present in your own life. Where do you often seem content to remain? Why? Where do you see the Risen Jesus seizing you by the hand, and pulling you to a new and brighter place? How can you respond to Jesus’ call?