Christ, the Standard Bearer

One of the most common symbols in artwork of the Resurrection is the flag that Christ is waving. Just take a look at this picture of Christ springing out of the tomb, with two saints praying in earnest below Him:

The Resurrection of Christ with the Saint Leonard of Noblac and Lucia, by  Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio and Marco d'Oggiono, c. 1491-94. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany. Via
The Resurrection of Christ with the Saint Leonard of Noblac and Lucia, by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio and Marco d’Oggiono, c. 1491-94. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.

You can also see this flag (or a similar one!) featured here, here, and here. So, it was definitely a popular symbol in art!

That flag is called a standard! Which brings about the question: what is a standard?

Centuries ago, before modern communications technology was developed, military leaders needed a way to communicate with soldiers on the battlefield. They needed to be able to tell the soldiers to begin, regroup their soldiers when everyone was too scattered, inspire their soldiers to fight harder in the heat of the battle, even when the fighting was particularly fierce, and alert the soldiers when they had lost — all in the frenzy of war.

Their solution? The standard.

The standard was a distinct flag that was waved during battle. An unarmed soldier, known as a standard bearer, would hold up this flag for the entire length of the battle and wave it around. You might think that this position would be given to those who were normally cannon fodder, so to speak, since this person would be unarmed, but no! Usually, this position was given to persons of honor and these people were heavily guarded, since this position was so extremely important. Furthermore, to drop the standard was seen as a cowardly and potentially treasonous act. So, only the best were chosen for this job.

When the standard was first unfurled, it was a signal to begin the battle. But the flag continued to be important throughout the battle! In the frenzy of battle, it could be easy to get lost and detached from your people. So, you would look above at the sky for your standard and then regroup.

The flag was also an inspirational sign. As long as your standard was still waving, you had hope. For example! In the national anthem of the United States, one of the key moments of that song is that the flag was still there. So, the mere presence of the standard would inspire you to regroup and keep on fighting.

As you can imagine, it was a popular image for many Christians! After all, He had just defeated death! Yet, His disciples were all scattered and scared in the frenzy of this last victorious battle. So, Christ is commonly depicted as waving this standard to signal victory and to inspire and regroup the troops using a symbolism that many in this time period easily recognized.

While this symbolism might fly over our heads in this modern age, the message still remains the same! Christ has still destroyed death. And, as we go forth in our lives, we should always turn to Christ to both regroup and to be inspired. For His Way is the path to life eternal!

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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