We often say that a picture paints a thousand words. This is very true, a picture makes words unnecessary, it speaks for itself.
Over the centuries Christians have used pictures to paint the story of salvation, to make the Bible accessible, to stir up faith, and to touch our hearts and minds.
One of the best known and most effective was painted in 1854 by the English artist Holman Hunt. It is called ‘’ The Light of the World ‘’ and has been described as a sermon on canvas.
In the days before literacy artists were the great preachers, the great interpreters. In those times few could read but anybody could understand a painting.
‘’ The Light of the World ‘’ shows Jesus standing outside a door, his hand is raised to knock on the door and he carries a lighted lantern. The painting is based on the passage from the Book of the Apocalypse which says ‘’ behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me.’’
The painting became hugely popular, toured the world and was the subject of much speculation about its meaning.
The door represents the entrance to the human heart and it is significant that the artist did not paint a handle on the outside indicating that the door could only be opened from the inside.
Then there is the lamp carried by Christ, the painter may have had in mind the words of David ‘’ your word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.’’ It is therefore the lamp which guides our feet in the ways of righteousness.
The painting leaves us guessing, does the door open? If it does what happens? We don’t know.
The symbol of the Jubilee Year of Mercy is a door, a Holy Door. A door invites us to enter, to move from where we are, to experience a different reality.
We often think of mercy as forgiving an individual act, somebody does something bad to us and we forgive them. It is that of course, but it is much more than that.
Mercy is a way of living, an outlook on life, a way of relating to people all the time, not just when they offend us.
I’m reading a book at the moment called The Passion and the Cross by Fr Ronald Rolheiser, an American spiritual writer. One of the chapters is about Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus to carry his cross.
Rolheiser says that this was not something Simon planned or volunteered for. He was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet ironically it would be the most significant thing he would do in his whole life.
It would earn him a place in history and folklore that can only be envied by the most famous athletes, entertainers, politicians and religious figures.
Simon of Cyrene will forever be famous, thousands of years from now his name will still be remembered and for the right reason. He helped to carry the cross of Jesus.
Rolheiser goes on to say that there is a wonderful mystical image here, namely the picture of a man or a woman simply by being at a given place, at a given time, is conscripted to do a task that is unwanted and unplanned and disruptive of his or her agenda and dreams.
And yet this unwanted thing becomes in the end the most important thing he or she will ever do. This may be happening now in our lives. Rolheiser suggests some possibilities;
- When you are the one who has to take care of an aging parent simply because you live close by.
- When you are the parent of a special needs child and are asked to do things that other parents aren’t asked to do.
- When you are the one whose gentle nature makes it difficult to say no and people take advantage of you.
- When you are the one whose dreams and plans can be sacrificed because everyone else’s are deemed more important.
- When you are the one whose life is disrupted by unwanted circumstances, you are Simon of Cyrene, helping Jesus carry his cross.
Simon of Cyrene was standing at the edge of things, a face in the crowd, when the drama of the Passion enfolded him,
we can guess that his response was less than fully enthusiastic, yet this unplanned and unwanted service became the most important thing he ever did.
Last week we celebrated the feast of another iconic figure in our Christian story, Patrick the Apostle of Ireland. Again, initially anyway, you could say he was a victim of circumstances, like Simon plucked out of obscurity, again simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Truly God’s ways are not our ways, again what began as an unwanted intrusion into his life led Patrick, and the Irish people on an amazing journey.
The Book of Armagh tells us that Patrick wished the Irish to have two phrases ever on their lips, Kyrie Eleison and Deo Gratias
Kyrie Eleison—Lord have Mercy. Deo Gratias—Thanks be to God.
That’s a pretty good formula for this Jubilee Year of Mercy—– Lord have mercy—-Thanks be to God.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.