Lots of times when you look at a work of art, the background just fades away. It's easy in this painting to focus on Jesus, the cross, the women. But having spent over three hundred hours looking at this painting, I had lots of time to consider the background.
First of all, it's dim. It's hard to see the hills of Judea, the rocks Jesus said would cry out in praise if the children were silent. These are the same hills that watched Abraham nearly kill his son Isaac on the hilltop just to the east. These same ravines sheltered David and his soldiers when they put Jerusalem under siege. These are the same rocks that Solomon considered as his workmen built the temple. There's a deep history to this landscape.
Look at the sky. It's gruesome. The sun peeks out of a tear in the clouds, red as blood. The very cosmos is engaged in what's happening on this cross. The New Testament tells us that this is in fact the case -- that all creation, not just human beings, was involved in this sacrifice. From this moment, from Jesus' sacrifice, comes not only our redemption but the redemption of all creation. Jesus is not only our Lord, but also Lord of the earth, of the heavens, of the rocks and the hills and the trees and the ravines.
Romans 8 tells us that all creation waits in eager expectation for the church -- those who have been adopted into God's family through Jesus -- to be revealed. This is precisely because through the church God is unfolding his plan for that creation. He uses his church to give creation a foretaste of what it will be like to be made new.
It should not surprise us that the sun was darkened and that an earthquake shook the ground when Jesus died. We so often minimize Jesus by making his life, his death, and his resurrection primarily about us. It has a huge impact on us, yes, but God was redeeming not just us but all of his creation, which had become infected by sin. Sin's impact goes far beyond what we usually understand. We think of sin as "something I've done wrong." Rather, sin is a power that is opposed to God's rule, not just in our lives but throughout creation.
The painter has captured the cosmic nature of Jesus' death. Take some time to consider Colossians 1:15-23 and ponder what the Bible says about these things!