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Surely He Has Borne Our Infirmities – Isaiah 53 and the Isenheim Altar

April 6, 2012

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:1-6)

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The images in this posting are of the 1512-1515 painting of the Crucifixion by Matthias Grünewald for the Altarpiece of the hospital chapel of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Isenheim, Alsace. This Monastery had been a hospital for people suffering with the bubonic plague in the years it devastated Europe.  Detailed examination of Grünewald’s portayal of Jesus on the Cross shows that he has been painted with the appearance of one suffering from the plague. In this way, Grünewald bore eloquent witness to the truth stated in Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases.”

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