Reflections of Grace

12 03 2009



Joel Sheesley is a well known and respected artist who has taught art at Wheaton College in Chicago Illinois since 1974.  A large, though by no means exclusive part of his work has concentrated upon domestic life in suburban America.  Many of his works are large scale and, upon reflection, reveal how Americans fit into their everyday lives the belief’s upon which their faith is placed, the culture in which they live and the people that they love.

Sheesley’s “Winter Conversation” communicates an ever present grace in our lives, even when we are going through what on the service would appear to be the most routine matters.  Initially we see a couple’s reflection as they converse at the table with winter’s light shining through a nearby window.  The undisturbed snow communicates a beautiful simplicity and peace; the light, which creates the reflection, represents hope.

However, in this simplest of common events there is a powerful eternal truth present as well.  If one looks closely they will notice that the print of the painting on whose glass you see the reflection is, “The Portinari Altarpiece,” by Hugo van der Goes, painted in 1476.  The center panel of the altarpiece depicts the nativity of Christ.  Most of it is obscured by the reflection, but you can see a bit of Joseph (his sandal – off his foot because he is standing on holy ground), various angels, a bit of the shepherds, a bit of Mary’s blue dress, a sheaf of wheat, and various flowers, all of which have specific symbolic meaning in terms of the events and persons in van der Goes’s painting.

The message is clear.  There is a truth which connects the past event of the birth of Christ with even the simplest and most routine occurrences of our daily lives.  The truth of God’s grace is an ever present reality of our lives, reflected even in a “Winter Conversation”.


God’s Grace Story

3 05 2008

David Arms, a well known and respected artist who hails from Nashville, set out to capture the story of Scripture and God’s grace on canvass.  The result which he calls “God’s Story” is a large painting that stretches across the chancel of a large church in Franklin Tennessee. It is a masterful portrayal of God’s redemptive work.  Each panel of the painting powerfully shows us the four connecting parts of God’s gracious plan of redemption for His creation.

In the first panel we see Creation.  Here we have life with clear blue skies, beautiful birds who are no doubt singing, a strong vibrantly alive oak, and a bright red apple representing God’s gracious provision.  The second panel, representing the Fall and sin, stands in stark contrast to the first.  Its somber and dark hues leave no doubt that an unthinkable loss has occurred.  Clouds are in the sky.  Black crows, symbolizing the death that has come, are perched upon a leafless and lifeless tree which sits lower than any of the trees in the other three panels.  In fact, the entire panel seems to sit lower as if the entire frame and what it represents has fallen.

In the third panel Redemption has come.  God has come to make all things new.  Here we see the agent of redemption, Christ, symbolized by a cross which sits in the center of a restored oak tree.  Though the sky is not as clear and blue as in the first frame, it is obviously clearing.  Flying around this “tree of love” are three butterflies who proclaim, through their simple beauty, the new life that has been won through Christ victory over death.  Above the tree is an egg, which might at first seem an odd and out of place symbol; however, the egg perfectly communicates what has occurred here and is still occurring.  The egg tells us that life in Christ is here but that a much greater and fuller life is on the horizon because of Christ sacrifice and victory.

Finally, the forth panel which declares the full arrival of God’s redemption, His renewal, His restoration of all that was before the fall to a greater state than before.  The Consummation of the Kingdom of God has arrived!  Notice that the elements in the frame literally spill over and can not be contained within it.  The skies is clearer and bluer!  The Tree is Read the rest of this entry »

The Agony of Grace

20 03 2008

Giovanni Antonio Bazzi’s high renaissance painting “Procession to Calvary” was created over 500 years before Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion”; however, each are masterpieces in their abilities to capture the torment of Christ.  Bazzi, also known as II Sodoma, masterfully reflects the majesty, although willingly lowered, of Christ here.  He is a strong and muscular figure with the light of glory reflected throughout His being.  Here is God.  He is bowed but is there any doubt that it is by His choice? 

We are in the painting as well.  Bazzi portrays our ability to be both kind and cruel but in both sinful.  On one side of the painting are those with clinched fists, angry expressions, and aggressive stances.  On the opposite side there are those with open palms and saddened faces, but they do nothing.  We do see Simon from Cyrene appearing to grasp the cross as he begins to take it for our Lord.  But we know that even he  did not do so willingly.  No one was without fault.  No matter if their sin was intentional of passive, it was all sin and how horrible sin must be to have brought God’s Son here and place that look of agony upon his face.

The process of separation has begun and it is this truth which Bazzi captures so clearly.  This strong muscular figure, this one with the glow of glory so clearly communicating His divinity has the face of agony.  The agony we see here is not from nails, nor blood, nor humiliation.  The agony is from the separation which has begun.  John Calvin tells us that Christ “paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in His soul the more terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.”  In the face of the Son of God we see a soul experiencing a pain we can never fathom.

God came.  God kneeled Himself willingly.  God allowed Himself to experience the pain we see here in this tormented face and it was all just beginning.  The agony you see is the look of grace in the face of our Lord and there is nothing cheap about it.  How He must love us. 

Amazed by His Grace,



19 03 2008

Peter Paul Rubens’ classic painting “The Last Supper” is beautifully striking in its contrast and symbolism.  In that contrast you can see grace if you look for it.  The figure of Christ is centered, prominent, large, with a heavenly light outlining His head.  There can be no doubt that Rubens’ intention is to boldly proclaim the deity and majesty of Christ.  Here is God.  Here is God surrounded by men.  Here is God fulfilling His mission.  Here is God knowing what is to come.  Here is God sitting with those He loved, those He came to redeem, restore, renew, forgive.  Rubens is telling us to remember.

Remember that the hands that would lift the cup would be lifted up themselves and nailed to our sin.  Remember that grace would flow by His blood just as wine flowed for their refreshment.  Remember.  Remember that violence would tear Him just as they tore at the bread to feast upon it.  Remember, Rubens is telling us, “Do not ever forget.”

It is all here in this beautiful portrayal: majesty and falleness, deity and humanity, holiness and sin, redemption and decay, grace and judgement, mercy and betrayal, forgiveness and bitterness, love and envy, sacrifice and selfishness.  It is all here in the image of God and man.  Remember.

Can you see His grace here?  It is written on His face as He looks to His Father and it is written upon the face of the one who looks at you.  Grace and sin are both sitting at that table.  However, although sin sat at the table with Him and even looks toward you, it will never be strong enough to overshadow God’s grace which sat there as well.  Remember!

In His Grace,


Maundy Thursday

 March 20, 2008