Series 2002 - May
"You will bear witness for me ... beginning here..."
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
You mean that this is a witness?” she said, as she passed me a cup of tea. “I have never witnessed before,” she commented, as she thoughtfully poured herself a cup of tea and sat down in a comfortable platform rocker not far from me.
“Yes, it is a witness,” I replied, sipping the hot tea from my cup and returning it to its saucer. I took a cookie from the plate she offered, and continued, “In fact, it’s a very strong witness and will touch a number of people who allow the scenes to touch them.”
But I am ahead of myself. Let me begin at the beginning…
Early in Lent I discovered the art of Sieger Köder when I visited Anglican House on Princess Street. In the hallway hung a picture of Jesus washing Peter’s feet. I was familiar with the story. John records it in chapter 13 of his gospel. The picture on the wall was vibrant with colour and I was deeply moved by his composition. Jesus knelt before Peter, his back to me. Peter’s foot was held in Jesus’ hands, the bowl between them. In the water I could see the reflection of Jesus’ face. It was like I was in the Upper Room with them, looking over Jesus’ shoulder. I could almost hear the water splashing against the sides of the bowl in his gesture of servant hood.
“He’s done others,” Gwen commented, noticing my interest in the picture. “I have a flyer in my office. I’ll go and get it.” Gwen, the manager of the bookstore, quickly returned. She passed the flyer to me. “He’s wonderful,” she added. Indeed he is! On the cover of the flyer I saw the Last Supper. Opening the brochure I discovered The Closeness of God and the fourteen scenes following Jesus from Pilate’s Hall to the tomb where his body was placed before sunset on that Friday he died.
I was familiar with the scenes but each one was new, fresh somehow. Each one had been faithfully reproduced and each one was presented in a new way. Sieger Köder is now 77 years old. He had spent the last year of the War as one of our prisoners of war. After the armistice, he studied art in Austria. A late Vocation, he was ordained a priest the same year Harold Nutter had ordained me to the priesthood. I sensed a bond.
Father Köder had renamed the familiar scenes. I was seeing them for the first time, although I remembered them well from my youth on Paradise Row. These scenes were colourful and engaging. I found them exciting! My eyes darted from one depiction to another, and then another. Jesus was no longer Accused. Köder placed Jesus, bowing in submission to Pilate and Ciaphas and renamed the scene Surrender. Civil authority washed his hands in a bowl turning red – reminiscent of the Nile in an earlier day – while the ecclesiastical authority clutched the Torah – received from that same era.
Jesus does not Fall for the First Time but rather genuflects under a cross-beam weighted down by the evil and injustice of the world appearing as ghost-like apparitions over Jesus’ burden. Cornerstone, the priest-artist called it. I grew more excited! On this cornerstone a temple is built out of living stones as Peter would remind us later.
These scenes hang in the nave at St. Luke’s now. Connie, my hostess, struck with awe when she saw them for the first time, wanted to place them on the walls that have surrounded and sheltered her for over eighty years. Her eyes glistened as she stood before one scene, and then another. Her eyes darted from one detail to another. She was reverent in her silence. Reverent and reflective. “Norma would so love these,” she added. “But she couldn’t take them in now.” Norma, her sister and life long companion until she suffered a stroke, was creative and imaginative in her love for God and the scriptures – and well Connie knew that her sister would indeed be enthralled by these engaging pieces of art.
“They touch us,” Connie said, and added, “Will you have some more tea?”
“They touch us all,” I added, offering my empty cup and saucer. As she poured the tea, I went on, “And they touch each of us differently.”
“Indeed they do,” she said. “That’s the beauty of them!” She passed me my tea. And I took another cookie.
“The beauty indeed,” I said.
Jesus neither Falls for the Second Time. Instead Köder has him leading others, each with their own cross-beam. With Us he entitles the scene. It’s encouraging and it’s exciting. Invited to pick up our cross and follow him, Köder has Jesus leading others on a path he shares with us. Our cross is not denied. Our cross is not removed. And he does not carry his cross alone. Faith and scripture are integrated. A struggle then, certainly – but a struggle now, as well, for us. The struggle continues, but not alone. What good news! What relief!
“We don’t even have to see the same thing,” Connie went on. “We are all different and we all see things differently.”
“Each of us sees Jesus from where we stand,” I replied. “And you are allowing us all to see him as we need to see him.”
“And that’s a witness?” she asked.
“That’s your witness,” I answered. “You’re allowing God to touch people’s lives. He’s touched your life. You’re allowing that to happen for others. A witness is like that.”
“I can see that,” was her reply. And she sipped some tea.
It seems to me that Connie’s is a Pentecostal witness.
“You will bear witness for me,” said Jesus, “beginning here…” In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke recorded that the beginning was in Jerusalem. For Connie, she was simply “beginning here…,” where she has been her whole life long: at the small church where she has been steadfast and faithful to her Lord. Here, where she recognized Jesus in a fresh way, in an emotive and engaging way that she knew would resonate with her sister, and in a way that she hoped would touch others as well.
In these scenes she bore witness to Jesus’ Death, and her faithfulness bore witness to his Resurrection. That’s all Jesus expected. It was the apostolic witness into which we have all been baptized.
That witness is self-effacing and humble. But it has the power of Pentecost that changed lives and still does.
Copyright © 2002 James T. Irvine
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