Margaret Parker’s striking depiction of Christ brought before the people—the Ecce Homo—viscerally combines grandeur with vulnerability and sorrow. The figure of Christ is portrayed in modern dress, but is surmounted with a threadbare royal robe, the tribute by his abusers that both mocks and discloses the truth. The head bears the crown of thorns, and the hands are bound. The clothing shows a night of terror in police custody, and the feet are unshod, defenceless.
Yet the body of Christ is erect, facing us—we who are now the people assembled before Him. Meanwhile behind Him—depicted as He is with a palette of browns that underscore the poverty assumed by the Word—is shimmering gold. Parker renders the face of Christ with solemnity and strength; His eyes meet ours directly, the Judge, judged in our place (Barth §59.2).
The suffering of Christ takes on special urgency and pathos in the letter of 1 Peter. The persecuted Church undergoes a ‘fiery ordeal’ (4:12); it stands under judgement, which begins with the household of God (4:17), and the Adversary prowls even now like a ravening lion.
In the midst of this suffering, Christ stands as the Dying One who lives. There is no attempt to avert our eyes from the injustice and cruelty of this world, visited upon Christ and assumed by Him. The living enactment of the Suffering Servant psalms takes centre stage. Christ is mute, like a lamb before its shearers; He is poured out like wax; He is condemned among criminals; He makes the grave His bed. He bore our sins, the Righteous for the unrighteous.
The oppressed know this Christ; He knows them. In their suffering, He remains their ‘Shepherd and Guardian’ (2:25). In the midst of all that binds them, He frees. In the midst of all that wounds and afflicts them, He heals. In His own earthly pilgrimage, Christ entrusted Himself to the ‘One who judges justly' (v.23). 1 Peter does not leave oppression unchecked, nor take the hope of the poor away. Rather, as Christ Himself knew the God of justice, so those who are called into His way know that God is not mocked.
Yet into a fallen world, suffering will come, and for the persecuted, Christ will come as Exemplar, as Healer, as Righteous Judge. Parker’s Ecce Homo captures this pathos and this majesty.
Barth, Karl. 1956. Church Dogmatics 4.1, trans. by G.W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T&T Clark)
11 Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. 12Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. 17Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. 19For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.