With Eyes to See New Life


During the first prayer of the Easter Vigil service, the priest addresses God as Creator and Divine Revivifier. O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature… (BCP,p 288). This prayer is an active prayer of response, a prayer spoken by the priest on behalf of the people who have just heard the story of Creation. It is a dangerous prayer, acknowledging that there are cracks in the fabric of the universe. The Seen and the Unseen are not divided into a tidy arrangement of separate absolutes. Oh no. The business of God is at work amongst the people gathered. And the priest, by virtue of his or her vows, stands between God and God’s people to claim the new life that God is giving, has given, and continues to give.

It was with this event in mind, the Easter Vigil service that occurred across the globe on March 22 2008, that I chose art that might represent for us a revivifying image for our eyes, that we might see this new life, this ‘Christos Aneste!’, that our priests have already proclaimed and received on our behalf.

Traditional Resurrection imagery depicts Christ breaking the bonds of death, for himself and for all of humanity past present and future, in the iconic representation ‘The Harrowing of Hell.’ visible in this link to the British Library’s online gallery. This folio from Queen Melisende’s Psalter dates to the early 12th century, with the verso (left page) showing an illumination of ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. Christ is shown bursting through the doors of hell, in a pose filled with strength and action. Christ’s descent into Hell triumphs in the saving of all souls residing there, and in this image Christ is grabbing the hand of a man who is himself in an active pose of climbing out to claim new life himself. The recto (right page) is an illumination of ‘The Angel at the Empty Tomb’, with sleeping guards and the angel of the Lord proclaiming the resurrection at the entrance to the abandoned rock. Three women are shown entering the scene from the left. They are arriving with plans to dress Jesus’ body for burial, and carry flasks filled with unguents. ‘The Harrowing of Hell’ uses narrative imagery to tell the story of Christ’s Resurrection from a biblical perspective.

‘Easter’, a mixed media piece by Dennis Di Vicenzo, uses contemporary graphics to tell the story of Christ’s Resurrection from his perspective. Di Vicenzo breathes new meaning into the symbols of Easter and offers us a visual language of new interpretation. In ‘Easter’, there is action as the Pascal lamb and all that follows is poured out of the cup of salvation. The communion host, the fish, the heart, the text from the prayer book, the stained glass windows – all of these symbols illustrate the story of Easter. In using imagery that is understood by people today, Di Vicenzo is in his own way offering his viewers eyes to see new life.

And yet, something is missing. What do we have in ‘Easter’ to draw all of these individual pieces together? It is the very same that is missing from ‘The Harrowing of Hell.’ The imagery in both pieces of art needs an explanation if it is to have meaning for a person today. Would you have known that the two rectangles beneath Christ’s feet were doors if someone had not told you? Likely not. Would you recognize the cup as pouring out God’s promise of salvation to all peoples? Perhaps not.

In both of these pieces of art, the crack in the fabric of the universe is represented. The Seen and the Unseen mix it up, just like in life. The artists have done their work. If you cannot see the story of Resurrection in these two pictures, take heart. Through your baptism and your priest, you have been given eyes to see new life. Go out into the world and see symbols and signs of the resurrection for yourself.

On View: Easter by Dennis Di Vincenzo. Mixed media, 2007.

As seen in: Feasts for the Eyes, an exhibition of Episcopal Church & Visual Arts, Judith McManis, Curator.


With thanks to Donald Shell for suggesting the icon of ‘The Harrowing of Hell’; to Deirdre Good for assistance with art direction; and, to Larry Hunter for his Vigil sermon.

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