Peter Koenig, Christ as Second Moses
A perennial theme in the New Testament and in Christian reflection concerns how we are called to live through death into new life. When we die to our worldly attachments, and their hold upon us, we open ourselves to a greater life beyond. As the Christ our Passover canticle from The Book of Common Prayer puts it,
Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; *
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; *
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin, *
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Peter Koenig’s painting, centered on themes within this Easter season, expresses this motif in a particularly evocative way. Just as Moses led the people of Israel through the waters of death into a new covenant life with God, so Christ leads us through and to the same. This happens for us liturgically in the rite of Baptism. As Koenig explores this idea, he not only depicts Christ parting the waters but also shows the water emerging from the Lord’s side. This reflects John’s account of how blood and water came forth from Jesus’ side on the cross, but also suggests how water from the rock in the wilderness brought life to God’s people during Israel’s wandering toward the Promised Land. The “Thanksgiving over the Water,” in The Prayer Book Baptismal Rite articulates these ideas in a compact way:
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
Notice how, in the painting at the top, Peter Koenig portrays the crucified and risen Christ before what appears to be a darkened tomb filled with people. As we hear Isaiah quoted in Advent, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Christ leads the way, and makes possible our journey from the darkness of death into our new covenant life with God.
The two side paintings that accompany Koenig’s Christ as Second Moses artfully yet powerfully suggest the drama within the Exodus account of Israel’s Red Sea Crossing. The chariots of Pharaoh succumb to the waters of death while Israel is safely delivered on dry ground to their Covenant encounter with God at Sinai. Another canticle from The Prayer Book puts it well:
I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted; *
the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my refuge; *
the Lord has become my Savior.
This is my God and I will praise him, *
the God of my people and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a mighty warrior; *
Yahweh is his Name.
The chariots of Pharaoh and his army has he hurled into the sea; *
the finest of those who bear armor have been drowned in the Red Sea.
The fathomless deep has overwhelmed them; *
they sank into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in might; *
your right hand, O Lord, has overthrown the enemy.
Most of us have the blessing of not facing the equivalent of Pharaoh’s army. But we do have an enemy. And our enemy is the darkness and death of loving self and this world, even to the contempt of God, when God bids us to love him, even to the contempt of self and this world. When we live as we pray, to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit, we experience new life.
The above painting is Peter Koenig’s, Christ as the Second Moses, also known as The Rainbow Resurrection (used by permission of the artist). The final paragraph contains a paraphrase of St. Augustine concerning how we love God, from The City of God (Book 14, chapter 28).