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Church art collection

Albert Street Uniting Church has a number of artworks in its collection. On this page, we showcase some of the works on display.

The Passion Series by Cess Sleidrecht

These paintings are on permanent display and can be viewed during Open Church, Monday to Friday 10am to 2pm, or after our services on Sundays.

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1. Jesus is condemned to death

Comments by the Artist, Cees Sliedrecht

Christ has been flocked, beaten and mocked by Herod and the Roman soldiers.

He is dressed as a king, wearing a purple robe and a crown on his head, but rather than sitting on a throne, he lies at the feet of Pilate. Jesus is at the mercy of the Roman Governor, low on the ground, seemingly powerless, awaiting judgement.

Christ's head is turned away from Pilate, his body is slightly erect, and although badly bruised, cut and hurt, Jesus's face and posture show pride and determination. His purpose, however, has not yet been fulfilled.

When we are looking at Pilate, we see his huge feet with heavy boots and his harnessed body towering above the vulnerable Jesus. There is no escape; Christ must overcome evil to set us free. The tall buildings behind Pilate re emphasise the power of the whole secular world that, with Pilate, is condemning Christ to death. There is no way out for Christ. Evil seems to have the last word.

In the painting, we see the throne of Pilate. In a moment he will be seated there to condemn Jesus. He points at him and says, "are you a King?" and Jesus answers, "you are right". Pilate who looks powerful and in total control, doubts the guilt of Jesus, but gives in to the persistent demands of the crowds, who want Jesus crucified and dead, around him.

On the left side of the painting, we see Barabbas, the criminal, released, a gamble gone wrong for Pilate, cheered and welcomed by the hysteric people. A convict, chosen above Christ.

Emotions are all around:

Joy for the guilty verdict, acclamation for the release of evil, justification in the eyes of Pilate, deep sadness on the face of Christ who knows that the crowds do not know what they are doing.

The skies are dark, angry. The tone of the picture is sombre and bleak. It creates a feeling of separation from what is good and righteous. But through the clouds we see a yellow light, a sign that God is not leaving his son and therefore us, in his/our darkest hour, in his/our greatest distress. 

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2.  Jesus accepts his cross

Comments by the artist, Cees Sliedrecht

The painting shows a very brutal and emotional scene. Jesus is tied onto the cross, severely fatigued as a result of his injuries.

His face speaks of severe pain, agony and exhaustion. The crown of thorns on his head, causing bleeding, is a gruesome sight.

His right arm is stretched out towards the heavens. His hand, however, is not pointed angrily towards his father, to command release from his grief. In the contrary, the hand has dropped, obedient and humble, in full acceptance of his purpose, to fulfil the Scriptures, the promise of God to his people. 

 His body, which has endured hours of beating and maltreatment, is there for all to see and witness.

A stern centurion stands between Mary, the mother of Jesus and John, the disciple Jesus loved. There is no sign of mercy or compassion shown on the face of the soldier. He is convinced that Christ is guilty and deserves the punishment handed down to him.

Mary struggles to get passed the centurion. She looks highly distraught and tries desperately to cover up the nakedness of Christ's body with a cloth, as a last caring deed she can do for him.

John stands on the other side of the soldier. He looks puzzled, bewildered, not comprehending of what is happening: Jesus, Gods son, suffering so much on the hands of his enemies, not standing up for himself, not using all his powers to destroy the evil around him. John tries to help Mary pulling the cloth over Jesus's body.

It must have been unbearable for Mary to see her son suffering in this humiliating way. He, who did nothing but good, speaking the truth, showing understanding and compassion, offering forgiveness for sins committed, restoring people's health and offering reconciliation with God.

Due to the utter exhaustion of Jesus, Simon of Cyrene is later forced to take up the cross for Jesus and carry it along.

On the left side of the painting we see the three crosses on Golgotha. The cross in the middle is destined for Christ. It is illuminated by an orange light, serving as a beacon from where the Son of God will make his ultimate sacrifice.

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3. Jesus is nailed to the cross

Comments by the artist Cees Sliedrecht

The painting shows Jesus, together with the centurion who is nailing him to the cross.

Nobody else is there and nothing is said, it is totally quiet.

Brute force is used to keep Jesus's arm down and drive a nail through his right hand. The soldier seems to be taking a rest before putting a nail through Christ's other hand, prolonging the agony.

The hammer used is laying on the ground, ready for further action with nails scattered around. This is the same centurion who in the previous painting found Jesus's conviction, Pilate's judgement, totally justified. He is eager to carry out the duties ahead of him.

But then something happens.

His and Jesus's eyes meet. Evil and goodness are staring at each other. When the centurion looks at Jesus, something is stirring within him and he finds that uneasy. He looks at Jesus as if he wants to say, "who are you, you are different, what are you hiding?" 

The soldier is confused. Is this a criminal like one of the so many he has crucified?

Jesus's face, expressed in total agony and pain, is not turned away out of hate for the soldier who is doing this to him. In the contrary, he seeks eye contact with the centurion. In all his suffering, Jesus takes time to look at his tormentor and sees a human being who is devoted to his task, blind for what he is doing and determined to proceed with his job.

By looking at him Christ shows compassion and mercy: mercy for everybody even for those who hurt him most. Is this something that the centurion finds curious and puzzling?  He is not a Jew but a gentile, a Roman soldier who wants nothing to do with religion. His emperor is his god. But Jesus touches him and makes him question his actions, motives and beliefs.

The cross is towering above Christ. He will be hanging there soon, dying for the redemption of our sins.

The clouds are piling up, a foreboding of the absolute darkness and isolation which is to come at a later hour.

The fight between good and evil has begun.

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4. Jesus dies on the cross

Comments by the artist, Cees Sliedrecht

From the sixth to the ninth hour darkness came over the land for the sun stopped shining. Luke 23:44.

This is a very dark and ominous picture. It seems that all existing things have turned upside down. It all happens when Jesus is about to end his life.

With a loud voice he cries,"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," and he breathes his last. It is finished, and Jesus finished it in a perfect way. 

This is what we can see in the picture, the relaxed and utterly peaceful face of Christ whose mission on earth is accomplished.

But the world is in turmoil: the Most Holy Place becomes visible as the curtain that separates it from the Holy Place is wildly torn in two from top to bottom.

The believers in Christ can now enter God's presence. He has prepared the way for us.

We are no longer condemned. Jesus paid the price. We have received new life.

In the picture we may symbolically witness this by the open graves where dead people are brought to life. The stones securing the graves, are rolled away. Perhaps a sign to come when Jesus's grave is opened on Easter morning.

The earthquake tears the countryside apart, rocks are split, buildings are trembling and cracking. The temple, with the Jewish lamp stand in its facade, is shaking on its foundations. There is thunder and lightning coming from everywhere. The fury is strong as if evil takes out its anger over what is happening.

Through all this upheaval though, we can see the heavens opening up. Through the ominous dark sky, from above the Ark of the Covenant and the head of Christ, a beautiful light is reaching us.

 It's God's promise that there is life after death through the death of Jesus Christ.

The sign above Christ's head reads I N R I, the King of the Jews. But through his death and resurrection, he is the King and Redeemer of all believers, Jews and Gentiles alike.

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5. Jesus is taken down from the cross

Comments by the Artist, Cees Sliedrecht

In this painting we see that Jesus is taken from the cross, lying in the lap of Mary, his mother. She looks at her son, utterly filled with grief and sorrow.

Watching over her shoulder we see the centurion. Not any longer a powerful figure who dominates the scene and totally in control. Now, he is a person who rather steps back, nearly trying to hide behind others.

This background position of the soldier could imply that he feels uneasy, perhaps even guilty for what he has done. The look on his face seems to say, 'yes, indeed, you are the Son of God.' There is both sadness and curiosity in his eyes as if he wants to ask Jesus questions, finding out about him and the message he brought, perhaps even asking for forgiveness.

Mary, Jesus's mother, with the body of Christ in her lap, is the focus of the painting. She is in deep mourning, trying to come to terms with what has happened.

On the right side we see Joseph from Arimathea, who has been given permission to remove the body of Christ from the cross. He looks at Jesus, he moves his hands towards him as if he wants to say, 'you cannot leave us, you cannot die, we need you.'

The other woman in the picture is Mary Magdalene, the one Jesus had healed, a woman from whom he had driven seven demons. Her hand is stretched out towards Joseph who is in charge of the situation, possibly for support in her distress.

The painting shows a complete harmony of four people. There are no differences; everyone is completely absorbed by their emotions.

On one hand, there is a great sense of individuality here, where everyone has to come to terms with their own sadness.

On the other, we see that the four people in the painting are bonding with one another in their grief. There is no anger or animosity, everyone seems to be united: Jews, male and female, rich and poor as well as a Roman soldier, a representative of the non Jews.

It is as if the group surrounding Jesus, is meditating, giving honour and love to Christ, drawing comfort from him, although dead, and from one another in complete harmony. Isn't this Christ's love which binds us all, regardless from where or what we are?

We see the right foot of Christ appearing from underneath the cloth in the right hand bottom corner. If we start looking at the picture from here, our eyes travel through the whole painting, enabling us to experience the feelings and emotions of all those involved.

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6. Jesus is placed in the tomb

Comments by the artist, Cees Sliedrecht

Joseph of Arimathea, a rich disciple and a member of the Sanhedrin, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Pilate agreed and Jesus was laid in a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. The tomb was situated in a garden close to where Christ was crucified. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, assisted Joseph in the burial of Christ. But first the women are preparing the body before it is wrapped in strips of linen, to be completed by the burial cloth that will be put over Jesus's head.

The painting shows the body of Jesus, a couple of women and a man. Although these people could be the ones standing earlier around the cross, the artist does not show Nicodemus or Joseph, but rather John, the disciple who Jesus loved and who promised Christ to take care of his mother Mary, before dying.

John still looks as if he is witnessing a sacred event but does not understand the meaning of it all. He has placed his hand on the shoulder of Christ, a token of friendship, trust, and loyalty.

The woman standing behind Christ could be Mary Magdalena. She is holding carefully an urn holding myrrh and aloes, an expensive last gift to Jesus from Nicodemus. She looks devastated and seems to believe that Jesus has gone forever.

The other woman in the painting, equally overwhelmed by it all, is Mary, Jesus's mother. She is about to wash him, carrying a bowl of water, carefully, in both hands. A towel hangs over her arm. The burial ritual is beginning.

What we are seeing here is a very precious moment. It seems that we all have entered the tomb with the women and witness their last acts of respect for Jesus, so dear to them.

In the distance we see the garden, the surroundings of the gravesite, through the opening in the rocks. It is late in the afternoon and the sun will set soon. Vaguely we see the silhouettes of palm trees and the distant mountains.

Shortly the grave will be closed and sealed and soldiers will guard the tomb.  The women and the men will leave the place, go to their friends and families and mourn the death of Jesus.

At this point in time, presumably nobody but Mary, Jesus's mother, may have understood the perfect role Jesus, by his own will, has undertaken: to prepare for all of us, our place in Heaven.

Easter is not far away and then on the Easter Sunday, all will be revealed. Jesus will rise and every believer will rejoice.

Jesus has accomplished his task on earth.

Praise be to God, Hallelujah .

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