Easter - the Flag of Victory
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To compare two famous images to consider the victory of Easter.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the music Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber and the means to play it during the assembly. It is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNLtvAcQMIk and is 10.05 minutes long.
- You will need an image of Joe Rosenthal’s photograph, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, available at: http://tinyurl.com/zdyyl2f
Optional: an interesting discussion as to the authenticity of this image is available at: http://tinyurl.com/zn8hj7b
You will also need an image of Piero della Francesca’s painting, Resurrection, available at: http://tinyurl.com/h6oggbd
Optional: you may wish to use the song ‘Led like a lamb’ by Graham Kendrick (Junior Praise, 151), in which case you will also need the means to play it.
- Play Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber as the students enter. It is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNLtvAcQMIk
The music was made famous through its use in the Vietnam film, Platoon.
- Show the image of Joe Rosenthal’s photograph, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.
Encourage the students to study the image and consider the following questions.
- What is happening in the photograph?
- Where and when was the photograph taken?
- Is the photograph authentic or carefully composed?
- Explain that the photograph was taken by Joe Rosenthal. It shows six US marines raising the US flag on Mount Suribachi, on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, on 23 February 1945.
The tiny island of Iwo Jima had three airstrips and the Japanese used Mount Suribachi to fire on any position that US servicemen established. After days of terrible fighting, the summit was captured and a small flag raised.
Nearly 7,000 US servicemen were killed on the island, together with nearly 20,000 Japanese soldiers. A larger flag was later brought in and raised to commemorate the battle and those who were killed. It is generally accepted that, although the image that Rosenthal captured was not the original flag-raising ceremony, the people in the photograph were real marines who had been involved in the battle and the photograph was not posed. (An interesting discussion as to the authenticity of this image is available at: http://tinyurl.com/zn8hj7b)
- Show the image of Piero della Francesca’s painting, Resurrection.
As with the Rosenthal photograph, explore the painting by asking the following questions.
- What is happening in the painting?
- Who are the figures in the foreground?
- Why is the landscape in the background half-dead and half-green?
- Explain that Piero della Francesca was probably born around 1415 in Sansepulcro, where this painting is still found today. It was probably painted in the early 1460s. The calmness of the painting makes a striking contrast with the hectic movement of Rosenthal’s photograph. Also, in Rosenthal’s photograph, we cannot see any faces (a fact that Rosenthal cited to rebut claims that he had posed the picture), whereas in della Francesca’s Resurrection, the poised figure of Christ stares into the eyes of the viewer.
- Ask the students, ‘What feature is shared by both of these images?’ The answer is ‘the flag’.
Flags were probably not used a great deal in the time of Jesus. Roman legions carried a standard, which was more like a badge on a stick! The fact that an artist in the fifteenth century placed a flag in Jesus’ hands as he rose from death exemplifies how Christians use familiar images and language to try to describe the meaning of the Easter story.
- From its very beginnings, the Christian Church has seen the death and resurrection of Jesus as the key event of history. Christians believe that, in this event, humanity and God are reconciled. But what does this mean?
One way of looking at the Easter story is to see the events on Good Friday as a battle. Sin and Death throw everything they’ve got at Jesus. And Jesus is defeated in this battle. At one point, Jesus shouts, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ This may sound like a cry of defeat – the end of Jesus’ life.
However, Christians believe that this ultimate human experience of death, experienced by God’s son, is God extinguishing the power of death. That is why Good Friday is called ‘Good’ - if Jesus had not died, he could not have risen again on Easter Day and showed God’s promise of life. So in the story of Easter, the end is not death, but life - and victory on Easter Day!
Time for reflection
We must be careful not to take the parallels between Rosenthal’s photograph and della Francesca’s painting too far. The Battle of Iwo Jima is remembered today as a terrible struggle in which tens of thousands of men died for a tiny patch of earth. It was a horrendously expensive victory. In fact, the first flag to be raised was promptly destroyed by a hidden Japanese soldier who flung a grenade at it. Rosenthal photographed the second attempt.
Jesus, of course, killed no one, commanded his followers to do the same and rejected hatred. Christians believe that his victory was achieved through suffering, not violence. The red cross on the flag in della Francesca’s painting is symbolic of Christ’s own blood, not that of his opponents.
Christianity is full of paradoxes and ‘Good’ Friday is at the centre of them. The flag of victory is grounded in the human experience - shared by God - of darkness and defeat.
We thank you that your light shines in our darkness.
We thank you that you are with us when we sink to the depths of despair.
You lift us up when we fall
and you bring us victory when we have abandoned all hope.
Optional: you may wish to use the Bible passage from Hebrews 2.14-18, which speaks about the suffering of Jesus.
‘We want to see Jesus lifted high’ (ThankYou Music)