Sunday, March 27, 2022

Seven Easter eggs (3) Some theology

Thinking about how I might paint the Gethsemane episode I was struck again by its pivotal role in the whole Easter story.  When Jesus pleads with his Father that he might not go to the cross, he is in deep grief because this is the moment of facing its horror. Not just physical dread (though that would be painful enough) but spiritual dread of separation from the Father. Facing the cross - its dereliction, sin-bearing, loneliness and grief as never ever experienced before. 

In Gethsemane Jesus is wrestling with the costs of Calvary.  Can he avoid the cross?   Is there some way that the Father can let the cup pass him?  Can his mission to save the world be accomplished without this ordeal?   This is the time of decision.   Facing the cross before the act of crucifixion.  It's the cross before the cross.  Because in this agony in the garden the greatest decision in the history of the world is made.  Jesus commits himself to die.  In all that will happen next - the injustices and cruelties of betrayal, arrest, imprisonment, judgment, floggings, the climb to Golgotha - Jesus knows he is doing God's will.  With equanimity he faces his accusers, with forgiveness his persecutors, with love his mother.  He is controlling his destiny because his destiny was decided in the garden.

How do you put this theology into paint?  Was there a way to convey the agony and horror of Jesus seeking to avoid the cross?  I know the other option was to focus on his yielding to God's will but so much of the description relates to the tension, struggle - the sheer anguish.  That's where I chose to focus. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 2) The choice

A few days later I was enjoying a coffee with our pastor. Chris, when he applied (gentle) pressure about which egg I would choose.  Some had already been chosen, including The Last Supper which he was painting himself.  As conversation developed I learned he had been to Art College and I more readily understood his keenness for the whole project. On his smart phone he enthusiastically showed me the sketch he had made for his egg - based on Rublev's famous icon of three figures around a table. With imagination his design also included Jesus washing the disciples' feet.  It really communicated.  He explained he would be using warm, encouraging colours.

As we talked, I realized afresh the contrast in the Easter story between Jesus and his disciples sharing bread and wine (warm colours) and the awful darkness of what was to follow.  Judas the betrayer leaves the table and it was night. (now that sentence paints doesn't it?)  And then Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane,  He leaves all but three of his disciples asking them to sit and wait as he goes to pray. Then, with Peter, James and John he moves away with obvious grief and agitation. Indeed he tells them "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and stay awake with me.' And going a little further he throws himself on the ground, praying in agony 'My Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me." (Matt. 26:36-46)  Luke tells us that 'in his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.' (Luke 22: 44). 

Chris said that, if I took this scene, its dark and cold tones would make such a contrast with his set next to it.  And so, in this way, my choice was made.   

Friday, March 18, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs (1) A vision

Our new minister's wife is bursting with ideas!  Among them is an ambitious proposal to show an art installation (yes, that's what it's being called) on our church front lawn.  Seven large Easter eggs (over 4 feet high) have been cut and primed ready for different members and organizations to paint Easter scenes.  Supporting frameworks have been attached so that they can be firmly grounded together. The children and young people each have an egg to paint and a few of us have been volunteered into taking part.  As you guess (because I am posting this!) I am among them and have been committed to one of the scenes below.

We began with this list:

Jesus enters Jerusalem 

Last supper 

Jesus praying 

Arrest and trial 

The Cross 

The tomb 

Resurrected Jesus 

It was a challenge looking at this list and picturing how I might respond.  Each has dramatically different possibilities. It is decades since I last attempted anything like this.   Soon some were chosen and I found myself wrestling with my eventual choice among those left.   Next post!

Friday, March 11, 2022

Back in 1812


I subscribe to Today in Christian History and was struck by an occurrence today back in 1812. William Carey is one of the great Baptist missionary pioneers.  I had not heard of this particular incident in his life.  What a challenge to persistence when the going gets tough!

March 11, 1812: Fire engulfs missionary William Carey's print shop in Serampore, India, destroying his massive polyglot dictionary, two grammar books, sets of type for 14 eastern languages, and whole versions of the Bible. Undaunted, Carey said, "The loss is heavy, but as traveling a road the second time is usually done with greater ease and certainty than the first time, so I trust the work will lose nothing of real value . . . We are cast down but not in despair." News of the fire also catapulted Carey to fame, bringing in abundant funds and volunteer labor (see issue 36: William Carey).

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

O-C S 10) The separating Power of Things Present

Just to dip into Morrison again - in that list of things that cannot separate us from the love of God like neither death nor life, angels nor demons....he chose three words: neither things present (Rom 8:18).

He warns that things present, everyday tasks, can blind us to the great realities of God's love in Christ. 

- because of their exceeding nearnessYou can blot out the sun with a coin if you only hold it near enough the eye.  The round of present duties....absorb us, commanding every energy. Near things are so swift to tyrannize...we all need moments of withdrawal. To halt a moment just to say 'God loves me', 'God is here' take away the coin to see the wonder of the sun.

- because of the difficulty of understanding present things.  It's always easier to understand our yesterdays...but it is difficult reading love in the dark characters of present things. 

- because of the distraction of things present.  Life isn't a little bundle of big things; it's a big bundle of little things.  What things escape us in our unending busyness.

Jesus gives us the perfect example of untiring labour and unruffled calm. He gains the conquest over things to come. When Calvary was coming He was joyous. He set His face steadily towards Jerusalem. Yet....never doubting the love of God to him, certain of it in his darkest hour, through broken days , through never-ending calls.... not only did he master things to come, but he did what is often far more difficult - he mastered the separating power of things present. Do not forget He did all that for us. In a deep sense we do not win our victories; we appropriate the victories of Christ. That's why the apostle says: 'All things are yours - things present, things to come - for you are Christ's and Christ is God's. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

How big is my family? 4)

As we embrace this other family we remember that families can be great to belong to.  Jesus died to bring people together in the deepest way possible. We are related through his blood.  The church should be unlike any other group in the world because when you obey God and know his love in Jesus, you belong to a family of brothers and sisters without barriers. Age, gender, able-bodied, disabled, ethnicity, social standing, education, wealth.....all and more, broken down in the family of Jesus. WOW.   In the service I asked Carol to say something about her experience of finding her heavenly Father and belonging to a church family when she was left on her own because of her mother's death.  And what a difference belonging to God's family has made in her life.  (Carol wasn't sure she was going to share. We had left it open. But as I went to speak she whispered that she felt she should.  And it proved a pivotal testimony!)

But it is also true that families can be complicated to belong to.  We didn't choose each other. What an assortment of different people we are.  We should prefer to draw a circle around people like us. To be able to ignore others. To make our family small.  Thinking about the Baptist family earlier in that service is demanding enough. Really to work on relationships, to hold in prayer, to give support to people in other churches. But that is only the simplest stage of expanding our horizon.  How many others, belonging to God, are our brothers and sisters?   I chose another Scripture with our family responsibilities in mind.  Therefore, as we have opportunity let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers (Gal. 6:7).

So, that question: How big is my family? crystallizes a profound challenge for each of us.  Doesn't it? I think it takes a lifetime to work through the implications for my two families - beginning at home and in my local church.