I have written elsewhere about the artwork of the Lutheran painter Fritz von Uhde. I find his work absolutely fascinating. He is famous for painting Christ in scenes of everyday life in nineteenth century rural Germany. Some people thought his work was vulgar or ugly for its realistic depictions of poverty and farm life, but he also garnered the interest and respect of the likes of Vincent van Gogh.1 I’m not as big a deal as van Gogh, but I really like his stuff, especially the above painting, “Christ with the Peasants” (Christus mit den Bauern). A plainly-dressed family—perhaps multi-generational, judging by the two couples, the one in the background appearing to be somewhat older—gathers together in prayer around their simple midday meal of soup in their spartan but cozy home. Jesus joins them, facing away from the viewer, a faint halo above His head and His hands gesturing in blessing. The two visible children and one of the women look directly at Him. From the window facing Jesus, it appears to be springtime, though the room is filled with a golden light that does not seem to be coming from the window.
What an image! Maybe this image also stirs something in you, too. What would it be like to have the Savior of the Universe, the eternal Word Who spoke the world into existence, standing in your living room?! As physical creatures with senses, bound in time and space, we crave this literal presence. We crave it with our friends and loved ones, and we also crave it with our God. But for a multitude of reasons, we can sometimes feel impossibly far off, isolated, and unreachable.
But we’re not. And that’s why I like this painting, and lots of others by von Uhde. What the painter depicts here is what we actually experience: Jesus really does continue to dwell with us. He dwells wherever His Word is, in Scripture and in our prayers.
And of course, there is something deeply Eucharistic about this image. I can’t help but see a depiction of Jesus being with people at a meal without going, “Huh, maybe there’s a Communion angle here?” I think there is! Jesus has promised us to be in His Supper, a true participation in His very Body and Blood.2 There, He binds Himself to each of us individually and to one another (hence the communio or fellowship part). There, He forgives us our sin and gives us eternal life—but eternal life that starts now, continues into heaven, and will be brought to its fullness at Jesus’s return to raise all the faithful to everlasting, ever-blessed life.
And because of this gift in the Sacrament, we’re enlivened to see the world a little bit more like Fritz von Uhde did. I find Uhde’s sort of realistic, sort of impressionistic style really complements the concept of the work: we are seeing something that is real but not visible, truly supernatural, and he is inviting us to see our own lives with this same vision. Even in the midst of temporal lack or hardship, Jesus is truly with us. Our normal day-to-day lives are overflowing with divine mercy and love, even if we can’t see it or don’t notice it. Your God hears you, answers you, loves you, redeems you, forgives you, and stays near to you.
- 1 Corinthians 10:16: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (ESV)