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Lenten Reflections 2024: Palm Sunday

Lenten Reflections 2024 graphi

Dear friends,

For this Laetare Sunday of Lent, as we continue to pair art from our partners at the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art with prayerful reflections from members of our community, Mark Johnson, associate clinical professor with ACE Teaching Fellows, reflects on Christ on the Cross by Cosimo Rosselli.

We hope that this cross-campus partnership offers us all a welcomed space to practice Visio Divina, or sacred seeing, and through the lens of art consider this Lenten season anew. We recommend taking time to visit the Museum in person to encounter and connect to the art in a deeply meaningful way.

May God continue to bless you, your communities, and your families in this holy season of Lent.

~ The Institute for Educational Initiatives and the Alliance for Catholic Education


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Christ on the Cross by Cosimo Rosselli
Christ on the Cross
Cosimo Rosselli, (Italian, 1439-1507), Christ on the Cross, ca. 1500, Oil on wood, 80 ¼ x 41 ¾ in. Raclin Murphy Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1961.047.013

The Crucified Christ: THE Parable of God's Love
Reflection offered by Mark Johnson, associate clinical professor, ACE Teaching Fellows

Cosimo Rosselli’s painting “Christ on the Cross” is a powerful artistic pairing with Palm Sunday’s readings. The artist’s mastery of realistic depiction of the human body is immediately apparent. The visible veins on the arms, the tension in the muscles, the slight bend in the elbows and knees all perfectly capture the human form. Yet, for believers grounded in the events depicted, this is not just an artist’s anatomical study. This captures the moment of deepest anguish, not just death but the most gruesome and painful death meted out at the time. Rosselli lingers on the visceral nature of this death; note the bruising around the wound on Christ’s side and the blood dripping to the base of the cross.

Rosselli’s depiction of Christ’s body speaks to us in a form that we intrinsically grasp. Just as Jesus taught his followers through parables — stories that transmit deep truths through common examples — Jesus became man to connect with us through a form that we understand. From St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we learn that “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 

Beyond teaching through parables, Christ became a parable—taking on human likeness as a living example that we engage with and comprehend. Rosselli’s depiction reminds us of Christ’s humility, obedience, sacrifice, and service to God’s will for our salvation. In this moment of bodily death, the faith of his followers was shaken. The one they had put their hope in had been laid low, seemingly ending promises for a better life. While we know what would soon complete the promises that they still struggled to comprehend, we each confront crises of belief, personal challenges to our service of God’s will, or the need for greater humility. Through contemplating the depth of this moment depicted by Rosselli and the glory that soon followed, we are reminded not to lose hope because Christ’s promise will be fulfilled.