One More Move

By Sigrid Fowler

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.

​I’ve just become aware of a painting called The Chess Players by German artist, Friedrich August Moritz Retzsch(1799-1857). He was known for etchings, paintings, and especially his illustration of Goethe’s Faust. Goethe’s play portrays a brilliant, scholarly, and successful Faust, who desires unlimited knowledge and signs in blood a pact with the devil. This German legend, reworked by Goethe, must have fascinated Retzsch. His painting, now more commonly called Check Mate, suggests as much. In it, a chessboard with pieces is set  between two players, the devil and a defeated young man. Their expressions tell the story (see the RetzschWikipedia page). This painting and an anecdote about the American chess master Paul Morphy (1837-1884) turned up in a message by Pastor Tim Dilena of Times Square Church( ). Pastor Dilena’s title is “The World Changed in One Night,” his opening, a look at the situation in Ukraine. Indeed, the video is well worth watching. With a search, I found the source of Dilena’s anecdote. 

​It seems that in 1861, Paul Morphy, reigning chess master of the era, was a guest in the home of a Rev. R.R. Harrison of Richmond, Virginia. Morphy saw a copy of Retzsch’s painting on Harrison’s wall, studied it, and commented at dinner that, given the chessboard as depicted, he could reverse the young man’s loss. When other guests challenged his assertion, Morphy, with the help of Harrison,confirmed his earlier analysis of the board—i.e., the exact positions the pieces in the painting—then played an actual“match” and made his claim good, winning the game for Retzsch’s ruined young man. The Columbia Chess Chronicle(August 18, 1888) first carried the anecdote, generating many letters in response, a fascinating epistolary conversation(

​The question in every chess game is this: Can the king maintain his place on the board? Can he counter every opposing move—i.e., not be taken? Morphy saw somethingRetzsch seemed to miss when he painted the picture—in fact, the king had one more move.

​Lent is March 2 through April 16 this year. It began last week on Ash Wednesday, and with it comes a prompt to think about the cross. The losses Jesus Christ sustained that day are almost incomprehensible—the end of ministry at what was arguably its height as he called Lazarus out of the tomb,betrayal by one of his own Twelve, a blasphemy charge by the whole religious establishment, the Roman crucifixion sentence, abandonment by all the disciples but one—he’d lost everything. Then life itself. One stark truth governed the day: Evil has won. The disciples’ unwillingness to believe when three days later they heard some woman’s story of an encounter with Jesus is a measure of their certainty that the devil had taken the day in a contest with stakes unimaginably high. 

​It’s hard even to guess the depths of such desperate loss, even in the minds of Jesus’ disciples. Certainty of exactly that had been the air they breathed for three days! Jesus alive?Could they rearrange the way reality played itself out in their minds, turn inside out what they knew of the past week? Could they rethink and rework, even rewrite the shattering narrative that had unfolded before their very faces? Alive?Who would dare believe a thing like that? They would think of Lazarus—yes, he was dead and he’s , , , well, he’s alive nowBut Jesus was crucified! And that was three days ago. A step toward clarity would come only when Jesus stood in their midst. That door—yes, it was bolted, but . . ..

​Looking with a master’s eye gave Morphy a fact the painter missed, and the story has become a favorite sermon illustration: The king had one more move. The King still does.The stone with Caesar’s broken seal spoke that day as surely as Retzsch’s chessboard told Morphy: One more move! And the God who dismissed death into irrelevancy, forgave our sin, gave us faith, the witness of Christ in Scripture, and his Spirit as Helper always has another move. It’s his game, and he’s offered us a way to see things differently. We’re invited to assess as if through a clearer lens even those images from the fog of war. When that stone rolled aside, the dread of death rolled aside with it. In one day the world changed.