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Archive for April, 2011

Caravaggio

Our pastor is in Europe on sabbatical, and it’s about time. This makes twenty years that Scott has been at First Baptist and his first real chunk of time away. 

Thanks to a Lilly Endowment Grant, he and Joanne have been on a pilgrimage through England, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria and now Italy to study the relationship between art and worship.  The grant has also made possible a series of weekend workshops at our church, led by professional artists and open to the public.  The second of them is scheduled for this afternoon and I’ve been looking forward to it.

A work that has interested Scott in particular is Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, shown below.  As it’s about a week after Easter, now is a good time to post this because several days had elapsed between Christ’s resurrection and when Thomas finally saw for himself.  

The story behind the painting:

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

—John 20:24-29, English Standard Version

 

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If anyone you know has been studying hard for an all-day exam tomorrow, tell him (in this case, her) to get a good night’s sleep. 

You’ll do fine, Marya.

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Johnny Hart really caught people’s attention with this Easter cartoon from his comic strip “B.C.”. 

Notice that Hart uses the character “Peter” to discover the empty tomb.  In the Bible account (John 20), the apostle John had run on ahead of Peter, after hearing Mary Magdalene’s report that something strange was going on at the gravesite—but John held back when he saw the empty graveclothes, and Peter got inside first. 

Notice the rooster crowing, reminding us of Peter’s denial of Jesus three times.  Hart uses that event to trigger the sinking of the cartoon Peter as he walked across the water.  Both events had plagued the biblical Peter, convicting him of his lack of faith—until he saw the empty tomb and the events that unfolded from there.  Later on, in John 21, Jesus forgave him three times—once for each of the times Peter had denied him.

Nice piece of work.

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TGIF

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It’s supposed to be “Don’t Mess With Texas” but we’re a bit north for that. 

Paul LePage has done it again.  He has meddled with a Maine icon.  A couple of weeks ago the mural and now this—the sign on I-95 that motorists see while entering Maine from the south. 

This pro-business-until-it-kills-us governor just doesn’t get art.  First he takes down a mural that doesn’t flatter big business enough (but it was in the Department of Labor!) and now—a classic dead-give-away that he doesn’t get it—he “puts up a sign” on another public work to make it, well, “work” better (all right, the work in question is itself a sign, but that doesn’t make it right). 

True art doesn’t need to have a sign put up!  Does art not speak for itself?  This governor had to make sure that people appreciate that “in the beginning Big Business created the heavens and the earth.”  And Walmart saw that it was good. 

Here!  Here’s a sign to explain it!  says the governor.  Take that, you liberal NPR-huggers! 

Anyway, so you’ll know what this rant is about:  I was talking with Daughter Number One on the phone yesterday and she rather indignantly told me what she had seen as she crossed the line into Maine (“You know that sign… ?  Do you know what it says now??!!!  How can he get away with that??!!)

It’s true.  I saw it on the internet.  

But this may not be the end of it.  Already the hackers are at work.  While the sign is not exactly defaced, a cyber-version has been altered and it’s only the beginning.  Here are three photos showing the progression (regression?). 

The original:

          

The governor’s new improved version:

 

The way it should be, if the governor were perfectly honest:

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Only three years and nine months to go.

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And they came to Jerusalem.  And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.  And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?  But you have made it a den of robbers.”  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.”  (Mark 11:15-19)

On Palm Sunday many churches celebrate by waving palm fronds, singing hymns and praise songs of “Hosanna” and re-creating the Triumphal Entry by laying down the palms—also “cloaks” or jackets or what-have-you—in the aisle for Jesus to ride upon as he enters on his donkey. 

This morning our youth pastor passed out a bunch of his Hawaiian shirts for the kids to lay down.  It’s a day of rejoicing for the King whom the people expected to be crowned, and to lead his people to defeat the Romans.  Except that a few days later it was a crown of thorns, and a death by torture. 

But that’s Good Friday’s story, followed by Easter Sunday’s.  And the kingdom that comes isn’t what anyone expected.  It has already come in a sense; and yet not come in another.  It defies geo-political understanding, and we should stay tuned.

So, Jesus entered Jerusalem that day on a donkey; his fans and groupies giving him a flower parade all the way into town shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9) 

All four gospels record the entry into Jerusalem in one form or another (besides Matthew 21 see Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12).  It’s rare for all four to record the same thing; often the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record particular events that John omits, while John stands alone in recording still other events that the others leave out.  But today all four tell the same story.

Often we forget that the day after the Triumphal Entry Jesus got himself into hot water with the religious authorities.  Remember the Cleansing of the Temple?  Jesus threw the bums out—or at least some of them, the ones selling animals for ritual sacrifice in the Temple.  Many scholars agree that the selling of the animals itself was not the problem; it was expected that people would have to purchase their sacrifice if they had come to Jerusalem from a distance.  But many also agree that the problem came when the pigeon-sellers and money-changers had taken over the outer court, or Court of the Gentiles.  That was the part of the Temple where non-Jews (gentiles, or goyim) were allowed to enter and pray.  And now they could not because it had been turned into a marketplace. 

The three synoptic gospels all record this protest action by Jesus, but Mark’s gospel includes the complete phrase from Isaiah 56 that Jesus shouts to the offenders:  “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

This “… for all the nations” from Isaiah could be the impetus of Jesus’ anger.  His ministry was about to become an international one with a timeless timetable.  We see this in the final chapter of Matthew when the resurrected Jesus says before he leaves, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

The final week of Jesus’ life on earth—and the days after the resurrection—are full of drama, more than we can put together into a good spy novel.  Beyond religion and theology, this gets into psychology, politics, law, history, mysticism, romance, you name it.  They’re still trying to figure out the whodunnit, the how and the why.

For more on the cleansing of the Temple, click the video below for a five-minute discussion by Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright.  I like this insight very much.  It dovetails with other material that I’ve read, without overturning the “all the nations” interpretation.  Both can hold water simultaneously.  Remember that the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., not long after Jesus had confronted the system that ran it.  Bishop Wright seems to suggest that the confrontation may have been the beginning of the end for the Temple, on the way to something much bigger in God’s plan.  But that would depend on one’s view of Easter. 

See you next week for that.      

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Hold that thought.

Happy Birthday, Marya!

It’s been a better world for the past 25 years… 

Love, Daddy

 

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