Suffering Servant

This is the third in a series of ekphrastic poems which are a part of a Jesse Tree project for Advent. The painting draws its inspiration from the Suffering Servant who is described in Isaiah 53. The sonnet draws its inspiration from both the passage and the painting.

Working with abstract art has increased my appreciation for the genre. Abstraction forces the viewer (in this case, me) to engage more imaginatively in order to derive meaning from the work, and it has been a surprising process. For example, one way I derived meaning from the painting came through the happenstance of colors blending.

Underneath the top colors, the artist used blue as a foundation. The blue of the background and the yellow of the cross naturally produce green. In writing the poem, I had to ask, what does the green mean? If I succumbed to mere reductionism, the answer is only, “That’s what you get when you mix blue and green.” However, art speaks about what something means not merely what it is, and the color green says something. In our imagination, green connotes growth and life, and not only does green connote new life but it is also a physical manifestation of sunrise and sunset called the green flash. New life and sunrise are images and metaphors from which we communicate and derive meaning. What is surprising and wonderful is that I don’t think the artist was thinking “green flash,” nor even likely, “new life,”  yet there it is at the foot of the cross. What could it mean?

Here’s the painting as it hangs and below, the sonnet which it inspired.

The red runs down covering the darkness
Beneath — the sin-stain with which we’ve been brushed
And brush on others in shameless starkness,
Not hiding our hate, faces twisted, flushed.

But there to the dark of death and the tomb
Came the Son into the ruin and ash
He conceived new life in that stone-stopped womb
To arise in life in the green of dawn’s flash.

There in the crux we find His peace and bliss;
The Bright Ones look on with wonder, delight;
We behold Grace: Justice and Mercy kiss,
And His arms reach out to wrap us in light.

The Servant sets a table, bids us dine:
Be filled with His bread, with joy, drink His wine.

© Randall Edwards 2019.
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog ( Thank you.
Artwork: © Adah Freeman 2019, “Suffering Servant” acrylic on canvas. All rights reserved.

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