Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Lent 1: Christ in the Desert: Ian Green

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoi 
Matthew 4.1-11

As Lent begins we travel once more with Jesus into the Wilderness and that’s what this painting by the Russian artist Ivan Kramskoi depicts.

Kramskoi was self-taught and went to the Crimea to feel what it might be like living in a deserted mountainous region.  His painting now hangs in Moscow.

Originally he painted it without the background.  It shows Jesus marooned in the Judean Desert immediately after his baptism.  This was a Spirit led moment as Jesus contemplates the future and makes choices about the present.  It was painted in 1872 but it shows a timeless dilemma – how do we use our power, our choices and our lives for God and for neighbour?  How do we live the values of The Kingdom of God in our everyday routines?

Often when battling with these issues it feels as if they stubbornly remain unresolved. That’s why I’m glad that Kramskoi eventually changed his mind and added the background.

That’s because the light is breaking on the far horizon.  Against the desolation of the hard rock plateau that was the Judean Wilderness there is a gentle hint of dawn, of warmth, of the sun piercing the night and bringing the fresh prospect of a new day.

Faith is about believing, living and longing for God’s light to pierce our darkness.

Perhaps, for me at least, that feels like a fresh thought this Lent.

I’m so used to thinking of light as a theme for Advent and Christmas – yet Kramskoi’s painting and Isaiah’s words remind me at the start of our long Lent journey this year that the choices we make in the desert, in the darkness, are then to be lived through in the light of God’s love once we have come down from that wilderness plateau.

Of course Kramskoi’s painting isn’t bathed in brilliant sunshine – there is just a hint of dawn and maybe light in Lent is essentially to be viewed in terms of longing.

On Good Friday there was darkness in the middle of the day for three hours.  Whether that’s a poetic or actual description the point is we all know the reality of the dark night of the soul. Yet we long for the dawn of Easter Day.

In fact, we learn again and again as we go through life that dawn follows night and light pierces gloom.

Yet often we are called to wait – to linger in the night even as we long for this dawn.  And to make that journey not with despair but with patience and hope – believing in the light, even when it is dark.

Can we hang on to the thrilling conviction that we are not moving towards the darkness but travelling towards the light? That, I think, for me is a goal for this Lent.

So Kramskoi paints a Jesus alone in the desert yet dawn about to break in the background.

The hymn writer puts it like this - Longing for light, we wait in darkness. 

Ian Green

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