Word and Image

Word and Image

15th September 2013
The Rt. Rev’d John Bayton, AM
Word and Image – Fourth in a Series of Sermons on the paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer.
Jeremiah 32 v 1-3a, 6-15. Psalm 91 v 1-6, 14-16. 1 Timothy 6 v 6-19. Luke 16 v 19-31.

St Paul’s Canterbury,15th September 2013, Pentecost 17

Fourth in a Series of Sermons on the paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer

The Images used in this Series are taken from Sir Stanley Spencer’s Paintings of

“Christ in the Wilderness”, held in the Gallery of Western Australia in Perth.

The Rt. Rev’d John Bayton, AM


Stanley Spencer’s Image:  RISING FROM DEEP SLEEP

Exodus 23 v 7 – 14. 1 Psalm 14. Tim 1 v 12-19a. Luke 15 v 1 – 10.

Stanley Spencer’s painting “Rising from Sleep” is an image of Christ’s first daily ‘habit’ (if I might be excused using that word). Jesus’ daily experience was the continual practice of the presence of God through prayer and revelation. “I and the Father are One”. “Did you not know that must be about my Father’s business?”

Stanley Spencer recognized that because of who He was, Jesus is able to call us into God’s Hospitality. As I mentioned in the first sermon in this series Spencer grew up in a house where the Bible was the means of instruction in all aspects of daily life. He tells us that the Nursery was the Garden of Eden, and all his early images were formed from descriptions in the biblical narrative. All of his early works were paintings of Jesus and his disciples, and of holy men and women of the bible. (A few exceptions…) He reminds us that what we are, in our conscious and unconscious lives, our intellect, our gifts and talents, all recipients of the gifts of God for which we must give thanks. Hence, this painting of Jesus rising out of sleep.

Everything in Creation is a gift of God and our prayers ought always to contain thanksgiving for such – animal life, bird life, the environment, the air we breathe, the ground beneath our feet.

During a brief homily at last Wednesday’s Eucharist I invited the congregation to consider the following question “What is the first thing you say when you awake in the morning? “Where am I”. “What day is it?” And so on. Is your first word of the day a Prayer, such as Spencer implies in his painting on the Cover of today’s Pew Sheet.

A prayer of thanks for waking? A prayer of blessing for spouse, partner, family? Or, something like this, “Holy smoke, what day is it? Or ‘Is that the time? I’m going to be late!” …. Or, if ever you have seen the film –“Four Weddings and a Funeral, the Bridesmaid’s cry O F… ”””

For many years my first daily utterance has been “I bind unto myself this day the strong name of the Trinity.” I also have a final word after our evening prayers. I say to Anno, “See you in the morning” which is an expression of Hope.

We all have morning rituals also; the things we do as affirming matters of detail…… Sheet Today – “RISING FROM SLEEP’. In this painting Jesus comes out of his forty days and forty nights in the wilderness exhausted, wracked out and, in a sleep of dreaming he is confronted by Satan who temps him three times.

Let us think for a while about this Word and Image. How do you think? In words or in Images? How do you ‘read’ the Temptations of Christ? In Words or in Images?

Let us go back to the First Reading. Moses goes up to Mount Sinai where God writes the Commandments on two tablets of stone. Moses goes down the mountain and is confronted by Aaron who has made a Golden Calf. Moses smashes the Ten Commandments. Image prevails over Word. In most paintings of “The Golden Calf” we see High Priest Aaron standing by a life-sized animal – such as this ….one of my own paintings [Display “The Golden Calf” by +J]

In fact, if we consider the Sculpted Image of the golden Calf found in the ruins of Tel Dan in northern Galilee as the ‘original story’ from which the Exilic Scribes ‘wrote back’ the account as being in the Exodus, It is a very small image –about 30cm high and 40 cm wide !

In any case, however large or small, whether there were 600,000 Israelites or 400 as Hans Kung suggests (and my own scholarship confirms Hans Kung’s estimate, Moses grinds the gold of the Calf into dust and makes the people eat their own words. He then ascends the mountain where God commands him to chisel in his own hand the new Commandments. Moses descends Sinai and the Word prevails over the Image.

From that day on to our own Age ‘Word’ and ‘Image’ have been at loggerheads.

What is an Icon – an Image? It is a two dimensional representation of a multi-faceted reality. An Icon is a window into heaven. Christ, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews is “the perfect – complete Image of God” And we, ourselves are made in the Image and Likeness of God.

The icon reveals a Presence that acts on anyone who passively receives it. It conveys an impersonal eternity.

You have heard me say in this place many times that I believe in ‘parallel universes’. How else can I conceive of “heaven”. It is not ‘up there’ as Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is Within you”. Heaven is not an abstraction, it is a reality. Why? Because Jesus taught it as such! Imagery does not fall capriciously from heaven ( “The Forbidden Image” by Alain Becanscon. P. 140). “It is in the grip of sacred history and is authenticated by it”. And so are we, you, me, as individuals; we are in the grip of Holy History. God knows us, you, me, individuals, because you and me, we are made in the ‘image and likeness of God’. The world about us, as we have seen in the recent Elections, favors ‘individual identity’. Our Politicians are not elected for their policies, but for their ‘charisma’, their personalities.

The history of the Church evolves in a series of paradigm shifts – from the time of Jesus – spirituality; to the time of the Apostles after the Resurrection – Apostolic; to the next generation-Theological; to the next generation- philosophical (Thomas Aquinas to Abelard – the period of Umberto’s “the Name of the Rose” which he said ‘I wrote it not about the Middle Ages, but IN the Middle Ages)) , to humanism – The Sistine chapel, Michaelangelo, da Vinci et al; , to married Popes Cardinals etc; renaissance, to Reformation – Luther, Cranmer, Calvin et al; the Enlightenment with William Blake et al; to modernity to post-modernity, to where we now are.

The Protestant Reformations differed from country to country – the German Reformation was – Doctrine. The Swiss – Scripture and England a Reformation of Liturgy.

Like everything else in creation religion evolves. Nothing remains static.

Stanley Spencer once said that “life is like a journey on a train. You go fast but you are not able to distinguish every detail of the landscape; neither can you see the engine that drives you”. Very profound idea also taken up by Van Gogh in his “Starry, Starry night” with its eleven stars. Not for nothing is the world’s most important athletic icon – Nike – the word that I Greek means ‘Victory’. The Icon is a prototype of Prayer.

And, you may ask “what is prayer? There are many answers to this question.

Let me here say that, as I go from week to week to different churches (as a rule) and listen to , rather than ‘pray’ the Intercessions, I am often quite dis-orientated by what I hear – People praying as though God needs to be instructed, or worse, God is being told what is happening, rather than ‘what is going on’. – The congregation is ‘in-formed, rather than ‘formed’. E.g. ‘Let us pray for Uncle Charles who has dandruff!’ The Intercessions are ‘Bidding Prayers’ not discussions.

Often, as I go about my Episcopal duties, the Intercessions in some churches take longer than the Sermon, which ideally in Anglicanism is eleven minutes! And I am often tempted to call out, “Hey! Speak up. Speak to the deafest person in the Congregation!” Salvation, the act of being wrested from this world, is not achieved by knowledge, but by Revelation! And Revelation comes through Prayer. This is the message of Jesus, not of philosophers or those who pray the Intercession.