Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him, and sup with him and he with me. Revelation 3:20

March 15, 2006

I was going through an old travel diary last week and came across a reference to a visit to Oxford right after I was ordained. My note said: “Rev 3:20” I puzzled for a moment and then it all came flooding back. At Kebel College, Oxford, I had marveled at one of the great works of Anglican religious expression, William Holman Hunt’s allegorical painting of Christ: “The Light of the World.”

In this classic Victorian painting, the Savior stands at the door. There is no exterior handle. He must knock to gain entrance. The costume and the accouterments are very 19th Century Arthurian fantasy. The message is pure 21st Century realism.

Our lives are filled with stuff. The pursuit of stuff. The acquisition of stuff. The shifting of stuff to make room for more stuff. And while we bustle about, at the door to our souls Christ waits, ready to enter and fill us with His grace. But the handle is on our side of the door – always in reach, in good times and bad. But all too often ignored.

Christ understands us. He doesn’t ask us to throw aside our busy lives, our obligations, our commitments. He only wants us to take Him along. Invite Him in. Make His way our way. Reflexively open our door each day. Fill the hollowness inside with God’s nourishing, healing, saving grace. Commute with Him. Wait in line with Him. Work with Him. Even get stuck on the L.I.E. with Him!

While this text from the Book of Revelation is rich in poetic imagery, the ones that precede it are Christ’s very stark, plain speaking, challenge to us: I know thy works, thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth (Rev. 3:15, 16).

These words were originally addressed to the “beautiful people” of Loadicea – a town that had it all: wealth, culture, climate, sophistication, industry, education – all the 1st Century goodies in abundance. Many became convinced that things were so good, they really didn’t need God. Except maybe to drag out and lend some color to seasonal festivities. They had their priorities and God wasn’t one of them. He could wait outside.

Lent is a great opportunity to purge our souls of the lukewarm, to let in the purifying cold and the medicinal hot. “Readings and Reflections for Lent” were distributed to every family in the parish. When you read and reflect, you open the door. Every Wednesday in Lent we gather for reflection and renewal. Our Lenten Quiet Morning will open more doors for troubled hearts and souls. And every Sunday throughout our Lenten journey, we gather together to share our strength and hope in the coming of our risen Saviour. To shamelessly mix metaphors: At St. John’s, our doors are open. There is never a reason to be lukewarm in Cold Spring!

After hanging at Oxford for seventy years, “The Light of the World” experienced its share of wear and tear and collected the dust and dirt that even makes its way to quiet college towns. It was taken down and sent to a studio for restoration. When the artisans removed the frame, they made an amazing discovery. There hidden on the canvas under the frame, below the artist’s signature, William Holman Hunt had written this prayer: Forgive me, Lord Jesus, that I kept you waiting so long.

He had found the handle. The door was open. What about you?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear David, Bernie and I saw Hunt's Light of the World on display in a chapel at St Paul's Cathedral in London this past June. It was bright afternoon, and there were people at the kneelers in the chapel, in tears of revelation, from the power of the painting. A placard told us that the painting was one of 2, and this one had travelled many times around the world in pilgrimage before coming to rest in St Paul's. Imagine the lives it changes! Greetings to you from your supporters at St Luke's Katonah! Best to you and Jane and Robert the Bruce! Susan Walton