Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Scenes from the Passion of the Christ

John 14.23-27

I don't know how many of you are familiar with a series of books called 'Where's Wally?' They show extremely complicated pictures of crowds of people doing lots of different things and the reader's job is to find where Wally is hiding in the picture. He can always be identified by his red and white bobble hat and football scarf, and because he always looks a bit of a Wally. But even so he's often very hard to find. The books are all designed by someone called Martin Handford, and the latest one, 'The Great Paper Chase', was only published this year. But it isn't an original idea. The first person to think of hiding someone familiar in a complicated crowd scene was a painter called Hans Memling.

If you Google for Hans Memling's "Scenes from the Passion of the Christ" you will see that Memling, who was a German painter working in modern day Belgium 540 years ago, decided in 1470 to create a picture which we could justifiably call 'Where's Jesus?' He conceived it as a way of depicting all of the things which happened to Jesus in the last week before his death and resurrection. And he sold it to two of the people portrayed in the picture, who are kneeling in prayer in the foreground at either side of the panorama.

If we look at the whole picture it's very hard to see Jesus at all, but as soon as we start to zoom in on what's going on we shall begin to realise that actually he's not like Wally - hidden somewhere in just one tiny corner of a crowded scene - instead, he dominates the whole picture, because he's everywhere.

I've introduced you to this famous picture, which now hangs in an art gallery in Italy, because it covers most of the events which have dominated our church services here at Sandal since we last held a Parade Service at the beginning of Lent. Here, at one stroke, you can see the Easter story unfold, and I thought that would be a good thing to think about today, which is the last Sunday in the year when Christians traditionally think about Easter. But looking at these scenes also reminds us why there is a church in Sandal.

There have been Christians in Sandal for about 1500 years, but Methodists only began meeting here two hundred years ago. And actually their churches weren't very successful at first. Sandal wasn't a very big place at the time and perhaps people preferred to go to the parish church because, after only 13 years, the Methodist church closed. It was only when Sandal started to grow that some local Methodists tried again, and once more their attempt to start - or plant - a new church failed after a just few years. It was only 113 years ago, in fact, that the modern Sandal Methodist Church began meeting, in an old barn opposite the parish church. And for a long time it was still a fairly small church. Despite moving to this impressive building in 1906 it still had fewer people coming to it than are here at our service today.

So it's not true that churches used to have lots of people going to them in the past and have got smaller in modern times. This church actually had its highest membership, its heyday if you like, less than twenty years ago, in 1994, and it's still has many more people involved in its life than it had for most of its history.

But what's all this activity about? It's not just about people coming together to join in everything from Guiding and Scouting to the choir and messy church, or going out to work with community groups around the area. It's not just about having fun or being serious. It's about being reminded, in everything we do, about the life and teaching of Jesus and sensing his spirit, moving among us to guide us and inspire us to live and die with him. If we keep the focus on Jesus everywhere, in everything we do, perhaps our church will find that its true heyday is yet to come.

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