Christ the King Sunday

Le Christ jaune (The Yellow Christ) by Paul Gauguin — oil on canvas, 36 x 29 inches approximately, 1889. In the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.

Ordinary Time: Proper 29 — November 13, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year C
Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 1:68-79 • Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 46 • Colossians 1:11-20 • Luke 23:33-43

View Lectionary

Image description: Slightly off-center to the left, the crucified Christ hangs on a heavy beamed wooden cross. The top cross-beam nearly touches the top edge of the canvas. Christ has been depicted with yellowish skin, long thin and straight limbs and rounded face that ends in a very pointy chin. The expression of the face is gentle and peaceful with eyes closed. Gauguin based his Christ on the 17th-century wood sculpture crucifix found in the chapel at Trémalo, Pont-Aven, France which was painted a yellowish hue. The setting for the painting is 19th-century northern France — a hilly landscape with golden fields, several buildings, a winding road, rust-orange trees and a gray dusky sky (possibly sunrise or sunset). Three prayerful women sit around the base of the cross. They wear the traditional dress of the Breton ethnic peoples of this particular region of France. The closest woman has her back to us with her head bowed and her face in profile. A stone fence crosses the background in the distance. There, a male figure in dark clothing crosses to join two figures wearing the traditional women’s head-coverings.

Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. — Luke 1:78-79

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. — Colossians 1:19-20

It is said that Gauguin’s inspiration for this painting was his observance of the faith of the Breton peoples. These peasant believers made a deep spiritual connection during the season of harvest in Autumn between the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth of the collected crops and the parallel cycle in the Christian life. Gauguin says he choose yellow for Christ to convey his feelings about the devotion and isolation of the Bretons.

Gauguin was part of the Symbolist art movement which explored escape from the weariness of modern society. Dreams and visions were oft chosen subjects rendered in vibrant color, bold forms and unexpected compositions — all of which we see in this work.

Christ the King Sunday marks the end of the liturgical year. For many regions of the world this is the autumn season of harvest and I find this painting to be a wonderful bridge given the beliefs of the Bretons (who rose out of the Celtic tradition with its deep appreciation for nature and life cycles) as we end this year to begin again in the next. We are about to be ushered into the season of Advent and the time of waiting for new birth. It was Christ himself who used the illustration when he said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.”

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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