The Resurrection: Port Glasgow 1947-50 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959
There are lots of paintings of The Resurrection by far the majority of them are in the garden with Jesus, maybe an angel, maybe Mary, maybe another woman or two, maybe Peter, John, or both, occasionally a sleeping solider, or a solider looking surprised. If they aren’t in the garden the setting is a road, or doorway or round a table, three people maybe breaking bread, maybe a woman servant in the foreground, like Caravaggio’s famous scene of The Supper at Emmaus. There are a few busy ones, by busy I mean the remaining disciples and the Risen Lord gathered in the upper room, with or without Thomas, 10 or 11 figures. In those scenes, painted thousands of times, the Resurrection is about Jesus being alive once more, however, if resurrection means anything then it must mean more than recalling an ancient story.
If faith in the resurrection means anything, then it can’t be purely as an onlooker, looking at something that happened way back when, to someone else, even if that someone else was the Son of God. If hope in the resurrection means anything, then it must include all people not just a self selecting few. If love through the resurrection means anything, then it must be something that transcends time and place. If Easter means anything then it has to mean something today, not just a remembrance of yesteryear.
Stanley Spencer, painted many scenes of the Resurrection, probably his one in Cookham Churchyard is the most well known. In them all he paints every day people from the local area climbing out of their graves in a truly joyful scene. There are those outside the graveyard wall greeting the newly resurrected. Within the graveyard there are people greeting one another once again, a group offering praise to God, people helping others out of the graves, some having their faces wipped, some naked.
And there is one figure in particular which tells the Easter story oh so well. Someone it is easy to mistake for someone else, someone resting and watching on as if this scene is nothing out of the ordinary. A gardener, with a spade resting on an enormous rock circle, oh I know he looks old for Jesus, and surely Jesus wasn’t bald, but remember that gardener in that garden, Mary didn’t recognise him. Here in Spencer’s painting of the Resurrection, it isn’t about Jesus being raised from the dead, it is about Jesus helping raising us from the dead, the spade has dug the graves back out just as the rock was rolled away from his own grave.
Yes Jesus was raised from the death and we remember that each Easter, however Easter isn’t just about Jesus, it is also about us, Jesus died and rose again so that we could have new life. Alleluia.