And the Word became flesh…
A glow of glory spreading like grace from the risen Jesus dominates this scene. He appears dressed in a long robe and shoes, but weightless with victory at the centre. Eve and Adam look up at him, joining their hands in an open clasp, while their other hands draw across their hips the draped garments that cover their otherwise naked bodies. His slender person is suspended as if from heaven between the adoring pair and a living tree.
Acknowledging the couple below him, Jesus inclines his head attentively in divine sympathy and love. At the same time, his dropped head and his arms now raised in blessing rather than agony mirror the familiar pose long ago given to him in representations of his death on the cross, and through that association Eric Gill makes reference to Christ’s humanity. The curving, U-shaped folds of the mantle falling from his shoulders emphasize a two-way directionality, dipping toward earth but rising with his upward gesture and spreading outward like ripples from his face.
A mystical celebration of grace and truth in forgiveness and compassion here takes on the glory of transcendence, set in a landscape of the spirit, detached from time. George Herbert Palmer, in The Glory of the Imperfect, considers the beauty of an actual tree, with ‘every leaf in order’ as a ‘finished thing’ (1898: 11–14). Here, in the two halves of Gill’s wide-spreading tree, as in the distinction between the human genders and personalities, there is a perfect asymmetry. The tree is in full leaf. Salvation is accomplished.
By placing Adam and Eve in front of the tree where Jesus hovers, Gill merges the interpretations of Old and New Testament stories: humanity’s fall from God’s grace and Christ’s self-sacrificing remedy for that fall and for humanity’s resulting troubles. In this design for Easter, Gill expresses the idea that the death of Jesus on the wooden ‘tree’ of the cross transformed the fatal tree of knowledge, whose fruit caused the couple’s expulsion from the earthly paradise of Eden, into an agent of salvation. Now they see Jesus on a tree of life, restoring their faith and hope that they will be reconciled with a loving God in a heavenly paradise.
Palmer, George Herbert. 1898. The Glory of the Imperfect (Crowell)
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. 15(John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’ ”) 16And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.