What is an Icon? – different from Renaissance and post-Renaissance western art. Not pictorial images by an expression of the ‘Mystery’, inviting us to glimpse into the Beauty of the Divine, like a window, something to see through and beyond. The language of theology is poetry! – well for the East, the language of theology is icons.

They must engage the eyes of the heart, the vision of the soul. In gazing upon the icon, not looking at great art, but gazing beyond into the Divine Mystery.

[1] The great Easter Icon Strangely, not of Jesus’ rising from the tomb, but rather expressing his conquering of death, sin and evil – by ‘descending into hell’ The ultimate of Jesus ‘descent (Phil 2: 6-11). Early Apostle’s Creed. Comes from two NT texts: 1 Peter 3: 18-19 and Hebrews 2: 14. Jesus’ Resurrection is the victory of life over death for all humanity, past, present and to come. The imagery is of those righteous ones of the Hebrew Scriptures in the half-life of Hades (not a place of punishment but a life not fulfilled, not complete, unfinished – imprisoned by death and/or the devil). Jesus breaks open the prison of death and releases death’s captives – He descends that we might ascend with him to glory – we are in His Victory Train (like a returning warrior King with captives and booty – but now the Shepherd leading us home to the eternal pastures of Life in all its fulness (John 10: 10-11 and Hebrews 13: 20-21)

[2] Looking at the Icon Hades, the underworld pictured as a cave in the mountains – split open with Christ descending – note the upward movement of his billowing garment. A large powerful figure (contrasting with icons of the Crucified Christ),  often pictured carrying the ‘weapon’ that liberates – the Cross. Where is the Cross in this icon? the broken gates (gold coloured!) but also many crosses painted on the rocks at the top of the icon. Surrounded with the almond shape ‘dark light’ of God – the closer to god the more we enter the darkness of the mystery (the 14th Cent English mystical work ‘the Cloud of Unknowing’) Constant theme of the Early Fathers of the Church – Jesus ‘Sabbath rest’ was death have swallowed Him who is Life and Life kills death forever. In some versions of this icon, there is a dead skeletal figure representing death/satan having been killed!

[3] Adam and Eve – Representing all humanity (without exception) being raised out of a stone tomb prison. How? – look at Jesus grasping the helpless hands by the wrist – all is grace, we are helpless – Life eternal is the free gift of God’s loving expressed in this ultimate ‘descent’: the sinless One ‘being made sin’, the Immortal made mortal to make us immortal. See the broken gates of Hades – now in the form of St Andrew’s Cross, see the locks and chains broken. (the icon of St Josephine Bakhita, wearing her chains of slavery, broken – our call to combat human trafficking and modern slavery and all that imprisons and enslaves, all that is a living death endured by our exploited and brothers).

[4] The other figures – John the Baptist (or ‘the Forerunner’) – Preparing the Way for Christ; King David the flawed but faithful King, who sang the praises of God in Psalms; and King Solomon gifted with the Wisdom of God; St Paul the great Evangelist, Abel the Shepherd, some of the Prophets (our call to be Prophets) – all OT figures ‘righteous’ awaiting the Resurrection New Life the Messiah, Christ would bring – each expressing how we can live the New Life of Resurrection now.

[6] The Ancient Holy Saturday Sermon

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