Sermons from St Faith's     

Revd Sue Lucas, Sunday, February 8th, 2015

What's your favourite thing in this building? I think mine is probably the reredos. When I come over for evening prayer at the moment, I think it is at its best in the soft light of late afternoon sun, or by candlelight, as it was at the Christingle.  It seems to be alive, three dimensional, almost, and it at once both draws the eye and is a wonderful devotional object.

So it is appropriate that, in 10 days time, we’ll deprive ourselves of it as part of our Lenten discipline, looking instead on the stark image of the crucified one that has no beauty that we should desire him.

The debate about images in our faith goes back a long way.  The bitter debate with the iconoclasts in Eastern Christianity was played out – with violence, sometimes, in the 7th and 8th centuries – until the Second Council of Nicaea declared it legitimate, in an incarnational faith, to show the divine in the material.

It is a debate that has broken out with bitter violence again in our own time – both our sisters and brothers in Judaism and our sisters and brothers in Islam eschew the making of images of the divine, most recently, and horrifically tragically, in the murders of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

Yet perhaps the greatest tragedy is that, for Christians, this is in some sense a none-debate; for, in the person of Christ, we both insist that he is the living and material, flesh and blood image of the living God, and the one who unmakes all images of the divine, the word made flesh that re-describes the world, that unsettles all we think we know of God.

For the right instinct in the eschewing of images is that images of the sacred all too easily become sacred images – set, as the Old Testament sometimes puts it, in silver and gold, or in stone – weighty, oppressive creations of our own that keep us bound, and limit God to our own small concerns.  We have a penchant for making God in our own image – even, perhaps, in the image of our own churches.

Yet, none of these images can withstand the image of the living God, the crucified, risen and ascended Lord; for all the glory of our reredos, for all the beauty of orthodox icons, what we see in them is divinity unmade, made vulnerable, is, indeed word made flesh.  We see, perhaps, something of the same in our own Crosby Gormley iron men, a reflection of our mortality as they gaze in contemplation out to sea… and crumble to rust.

And here is our freedom; for the orthodox teaching on icons, since that 8th century ecumenical council, is that they are windows on the divine, a way, if you like, of seeing through the material, to the infinite love beyond.

So when we look on the image of the living a God, word made flesh, crucified one, we gaze on the image that unmakes all images, that sets us free from the dearest idols we make for ourselves, and to undertake the patient work of resurrection – of imagining the world anew, not from our own puny perspective, but from the perspective of the God who, out of relentless love, gave his son, in flesh and blood, that we might have life in all its fullness.


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