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Church Magazine – April 2013

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Vicarage Letter – April 2013

Harry Latham

There is a painting in Manchester City Art Gallery by the Victorian artist William Holman Hunt called “The Shadow of Death.” His most famous work is called “The Light of the World” and depicts an adult Jesus knocking on the door of someone’s life to see if they will open up to Him.

I love “The Light of the World” but I like “The Shadow of Death” even more. It was painted between 1870-73 in oil on canvas and shows a 13 year old Jesus stretching at the end of a day in the Carpenter’s shop.

He is tired and looking forward to a rest. The setting sun makes his stretching shadow fall on the wall behind him and the shelf on the wall suggests the crossbar of the cross on which he would be nailed 20 years later.

His mother Mary looks up and is transfixed by the shadow.

The blurb from the Gallery says: “Hunt combines everyday detail with religious symbolism to create a painting rich in suggestion and meaning. An imaginary moment in the life of Christ contains symbolically His life and suffering. The shadow of Christ’s outstretched arms foretells his crucifixion.”

It continues: “To make the Biblical scenery as accurate as possible, Hunt travelled repeatedly to Jerusalem and took great pains to recreate exactly what he saw. Some critics deplored the depiction of Christ as a working man, but the painting was immensely popular, and over 4,000 engravings of it were printed.”

The painting says to us that Jesus was born (in a sense) to die. The focal point of the Mission (which he chose to accept) was his death on the Cross.
Jesus said of himself that he had come “to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) And as you have often heard me say: “Jesus died to pay a debt he did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.”

As we thought about at Easter, the gift that Jesus died to purchase for us, the gift of forgiveness, freedom, and relationship with God now and for eternity – this gift – is something we have to receive, to take hold of by faith.

Even a little faith will make a great difference. For example the tentative faith of the condemned criminal, hours from death, but aware that Jesus’ death was very different to his own. It is described to us in Luke 23.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He only asks to be remembered, but Jesus says to him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Let me challenge you as we move from Easter towards Pentecost to receive with faith (however great or small) the reality of Jesus dying on the Cross for you.

He who once died for us is now risen, ascended and glorified, more alive than ever, and holding out friendship to us.

For it is in the same way we have faith Jesus’ death on the Cross counts for us, that we receive and experience the Holy Spirit and see God work miraculously. As Paul asked the Galatians (3:5): “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Answer = “hearing with faith.”)

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We are part of the Church of England and of the Deanery of Burnham and Slough. We seek to play an active part in the wider church. We are also keen to encourage good co-operation across denominational boundaries as we seek to be part of God building his kingdom.