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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Hard victory

'It was a strange and dreadful strife'

Victory leaps from every inch of this painting by Peiro della Francesca. The risen Lord climbs out of his tomb, one foot poised on its rim like the foot of a victorious gladiator on the neck of an enemy. The vertical line of his banner and staff emphasize his upright posture. The sleeping guards sprawl like defeated troops. Behind him the landscape turns from winter on the left to spring on the right. What a powerful image of Easter.But look at the Victor's face. Those eyes seem hollow and heavy. The lips droop. Wisps of hair stick to his forehead. Clearly the battle has not been easy. There has been no "three days' sleep in death." The struggle with sin, death and the powers of darkness began on the cross, but it has continued. The still-bleeding wound in his side reminds us of that.

Although this fresco was painted about 1452, a half-century before Martin Luther, it illustrates one of his central themes. Luther marveled at the lengths God had gone to rescue us from the power of evil. He could imagine the scene described in Colossians 2:15, where Christ "disarmed the rulers and authorities" in a spiritual battle. He described how Christ stormed hell's citadel, banner in hand, striking down the devils and chasing them away. "It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended," he wrote in his most familiar Easter hymn, "the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended (Lutheran Book of Worship, 134).

Our Easter celebrations will be more meaningful if we remember that they come at a great price. The face of the risen Lord reminds us of the cosmic struggle he fought on our behalf.

But the pains which he endured ...
Our salvation have procured;
Alleluia! (
LBW 151).


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