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The upper room

A congregation uses art to experience anew Jesus’ appearance to his disciples.

In 2018, Peace, Aiken, S.C., commissioned three pieces from WELS artist Jason Jaspersen for its church, including “Upper Room.” Peace’s pastor shares more . . .

I want to make a claim. Jason’s art works. When I say that, I am saying something more than that it is an artwork. I am saying that it works on us and in us.

Entering into art

To warrant the claim, I must do something more than show you what Jason’s art does. I must also show that art works at all. If the lack of lines outside of art galleries tells me anything at all, it’s that not everyone is quite so sure. But we Christians should be. We could look at that historically. How many of this world’s most significant pieces are explicitly Christian, sit inside the Christian story, or interact with the Christian story? We could also look at this theologically. The Holy Spirit made the Bible a work of art. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that it is also most certainly much more than that, but it is certainly not less than that either.

Art is something more than pretty (or not), an artifact that we accept or discard based on our personal preferences. Whenever we encounter art, it works on us. When we experience its beauty, we are drawn to the art’s truth. When we experience its awfulness, we are repulsed from the truth or story it is presenting. Either way, art is doing things to us. It is working.

Let me add this: Art works artfully. Art is purposed. What it does is abstract a truth or a moment in time, freezing it for us so that we can enter it as we might a door, experience it, and leave changed for having done so. That’s part of why Scripture is written the way it is, as art. One of our church’s greatest teachers, Adolph Hoenecke, taught precisely that. He showed that the Word works supernaturally and psychologically. It works supernaturally in that the Spirit brings faith when and where he wills. It works psychologically in that the Word artfully engages our human faculties, opening the door so that we can go there. Art in general works.

Entering the upper room

Jason’s art works too. It sure did on us as a church. We encountered “Upper Room” together in a Bible study last summer. When we did, we immediately had two intense reactions. On the one hand, we felt disorientation and even chaos. The scene is drawn darkly and feels claustrophobic. How does one get out of the room? The doors are all closed. Moreover, Christ is narrow. Clearly, there is still much darkness in this world. But, on the other hand, we thrilled to see the gold of eternity and resurrection life breaking in. There is Christ framed in gold. Also, balancing the claustrophobia of the room is the power of the windows. In this work, the windows are not for peering out. They are for breaking in. We saw together that no matter the locks on our doors, Christ’s resurrecting power would find us wherever we are in our present darkness.

Sidebar on Jason JaspersonAfter those two central experiences, we noticed in the piece various people having different reactions to Christ’s appearance. We saw both Bible stories and ourselves in them. “Remember Thomas?” “I think that’s Mary.” “We can be just like that guy!” That last one was me. I shared that I had difficulty getting past the man in the foreground with the sloshing cup. The resurrection is such an earthquake, sloshing and shaking up everything we think we know, not least about our sin, trouble, and death.

That was us, but now this is you. Enter in. Let the piece grab you by the lapels with its aesthetic, ushering you into that moment so carefully frozen in time. It has earthshaking, Easter truths to show you. I say this to you from a different spot in the image. I no longer identify primarily with the man who has the sloshing cup. Now I’m the person on his knees. Even now, I look up, and with my own eyes, I see one of Christ’s hands raised to bless me and guide me, the nail mark assuring me of his otherworldly commitment to me to do so. I feel his other hand on my tear-stained cheek, chasing my guilt and fear away as if they were never there. Do you see me in there? Do you see you?

This is Easter’s gold working on us through art.

Learn more about Peace’s artwork here.

Author: Jonathan Bourman
Volume 109, Number 04
Issue: April 2022

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