If anyone is still looking for some good devotional reading for Holy Week and beyond, let me introduce you to a hidden gem recently written by a Lutheran woman. I have been reading and re-reading Carolyn Brinkley’s Bearing the Cross: Devotions on Albrecht Dürer’s Small Passion (CPH, 2012) for several years now and heartily recommend it to anyone. Deaconess Brinkley uses the artist Albrecht Dürer’s series of woodcut images called the Small Passion (1511) as the basis for thirty-four short devotions. As implied by the title Small Passion, Dürer’s extremely detailed woodcuts portray scenes Christ’s Passion, although Dürer and Brinkley also contextualize the Passion narrative with images of Adam and Eve at the moment of the fall, their expulsion from the Garden, Christ’s resurrection, post-resurrection appearances, Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Spirit and the Second Coming. Each “chapter” consists of first one of Dürer’s woodblock images, the associated Bible passages, and Brinkley’s devotional explanation of the image itself, including the important Christian symbolism that would otherwise go un-noticed. Then Brinkley adds a few relevant Bible verses and a short devotional reflection. The chapter then conclude with a hymn or portion thereof.
The genius of this book is that it operates simultaneously on two different levels: visual and textual. There simply are not many theologically serious devotional works in the Lutheran tradition for visually oriented adults. As Brinkley notes, despite their age, Dürer’s images allow the viewer to “become an integral part of the biblical story of salvation…. It is as if you are present with Jesus, witnessing His birth, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and final coming” (14, 15). Nevertheless, Dürer’s work might still fall flat for modern views, but for Brinkley’s accompanying text. For example, regarding the woodcut of the Crucifixion, she writes, “In this image, the cross divides two groups of people, signifying the two main doctrines of Scripture. For the scoffers and mockers on Christ’s left ,the cross brings the Law and, through it, death. For the faithful followers on the opposite side, the cross brings the Gospel and eternal life. This is emphasized by the right hand placement of Jesus’ pierced side, flowing with the blood of the Lord’s Supper and the waters of Baptism” (111-112).
On the other hand, for those who are more oriented to the written word, Brinkley’s very short meditations of the episodes of Christ’s Passion are phenomenal. They both confront the reader with the harsh reality of God’s eternal Law and the sweet comfort of the Gospel. Every chapter brings home the fact that Jesus died for you and your sins. Best of all, if, like me, you find yourself frequently crunched for time, no chapter is longer than three pages of text, including Bible and hymn verses. So, if you find yourself with a few extra bucks to spend and would like to both read some outstanding devotional theology and support a female Lutheran author, give CPH some extra business, and pick up a copy of this book.