One of the most captivating Easter images I ever saw is very close to me here in Zomba. It is the focal point of the chapel at St Peter’s Major Seminary, and I never grow tired of reflecting on it.
It is part of a remarkable proliferation of church art that has been produced by the KuNgoni Arts and Crafts Centre at the Catholic parish of Mua. For the past 40 years a talented team have applied themselves to the artistic expression of Christian faith in Malawian idiom. Their paintings very often portray Jesus and the disciples as typical Malawians in characteristic Malawian settings.
Sculpture also has been a big part of their work, usually working with wood from indigenous trees. The dying and rising Christ at St Peter’s is one of the outstanding results. The majority of Malawians depend for their livelihood on their maize crop so there nothing more representative of Malawian life today than a maize plant. So it is a maize plant that forms the background to the sculpture – the roots below and the fruits above. What could better capture the meaning of Jesus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
Then, superimposed on the maize plant, is a double image of Christ – both the crucified one and the risen one. Through all the years Christians have struggled to balance these two – the Christ who suffers and the Christ who triumphs. Here both are seen together in perfect equilibrium. This is a theological feat as well as an artistic one. We are invited to meet Christ as the one who has died for us and as the one who has triumphed over death. Happy Easter!