Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – Easter Sunday – 20 April 2014 – The Face of the Risen Christ

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Did you ever wonder what the face of the risen Jesus looked like?  Painters in the western world have created images in our brains mostly showing the risen Christ as a European male with a fair complexion even though he was a Mediterranean Jew. Icon writers, on the other hand, strip the face of Jesus of any natural, human appearances. The eyes of the stylized Christ plunge their gaze deep into the eyes of the viewer who sees herself being seen. [1]

Composers, too, can create an image of Christ for us. On Good Friday I listened to Le Pasión Según San Marco by the Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov. Although he was raised in a Catholic neighborhood, the Christianity surrounding Golijov had many faces. The Church was in solidarity with people who were poor as much as it was connected to dictators.

Le Pasión Según San Marco [the Passion According to St. Mark] reflects the composer’s background. His music moves back and forth between different worlds and does not reflect any one culture. Combining the music of South America, Cuba, Western and Jewish traditions, he produced an unusual view of the passion. He, too, did not depict Jesus as a light skinned European but a person of color. [2]

On this Easter Sunday morning what do we think the risen Christ looked liked? If you had been there whom would you have seen? Was it a bodily resurrection or a more spiritual one? Did the disciples imagine something or was it real? Was the rising of Jesus the Christ a metaphor for the communal resurrection of all people, rising up from the grips of death?

Scripture scholar Elaine Pagels summarizes the diverse interpretations of what happened that first Easter morning. [3] In Luke’s gospel Jesus appears to the disciples and he looked no different than he did before. He eats with them and invites them to touch him. Mark’s gospel suggests that Jesus appeared in another form, not his earthly body. So which was it? In today’s gospel from John, Mary of Magdala thought the man she saw was a gardener until he called her by name. She then realized it was Jesus but then he warned her not to touch him.

None of these stories gives us a clue about what the face of the risen Jesus really looked like. Maybe it does not matter. Maybe what counts is what that event means for us today. All that painters, icon writers and composers can do for us is show us the face of Christ through their lens like the composer Golijov did. So what do we see in the face of Christ?

On Holy Thursday Betsy Rowe-Manning and Angela Warner gave a homily in this church that reminded us that the eucharist is about relationships. How we connect with one another and how we help one another with difficulties in life is no different from how you and I embrace the life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus. The liturgy here rehearses us for living out there. Are we busy replacing malice and wickedness with the bread and wine of truth and sincerity? How do we do so?

Easter is a springtime festival. It lasts for forty days. Spring cleaning is something we all do around our homes this time of year. “Spiritual” spring cleaning clears out the clutter in our minds, bodies and spirits, to make space for whatever will help us develop ourselves and others to full potential.

In the face of Christ do we see those people who are hungry or homeless? In the body of Christ do we see people who are abused or deprived of opportunities to succeed? Do we see in that face people who are stigmatized because of sexual orientation, race, nationality or religion? Do we see in the eyes of Christ reflections of ourselves struggling with life’s challenges whatever they are?

The dying and rising of Christ is something we experience in our lives and the lives of others. New life comes as the old life dies off. As 7-year old Anaya Zullo said to me some time ago, when I asked the children how to get to heaven, “you have to die first.”

The Easter Sunday story is not just about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is also about our capacity to deal with suffering and even death that is, to learn how to rise up, bounce back, from pain and grief. We have to help each other. No one of us can manage the challenges life brings us without some help. So what does the face of the risen Christ look like? Just take a look around.


1 Zibawi, Mahmoud. The Icon: Its Meaning and History. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1993) page 37

2 Eisert, Christian and Bomba, “Introduction” Andreas. Osvaldo Golijov, Le Pasión Según San Marco (Worcester,MA: Ytalinnia Music Publishing, 2002)

3 Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels (NY: Random House, 1979) page 6


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

One thought on “Homily – Easter Sunday – 20 April 2014 – The Face of the Risen Christ

  1. Richard, seeing Christ in the faces of folks with whom we interact is indeed a challenge. Seeing Christ in the faces of those who present very different world views, or who for some reason we just don’t like is a sizeable issue for me. Sometimes I just like my position so much because I think I am right and they are wrong. My challenge for this season is to examine this issue for me. Don


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