This week, in Lent we think of the parable of the Prodigal Son, which Henri Nouwen in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son calls ‘a story of Homecoming’. A story of a Father and his two sons.
I have twice had the privilege of seeing this painting in the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg. To stand before it, and have the opportunity to be embraced by it is an amazing experience.
There is the intriguing depiction of the shadowy figures ‘watching-on’ Perhaps the tall, solemn figure to the right as you look is the forbidding elder brother; who is the man seated? And the woman stood behind the father, is it possibly, the boy’s Mother? And right at the back of the painting, top left as you look, isn’t there another figure, which to me looks like a younger woman, in the shadows, scarcely shown, yet present, perhaps a sister? The sense of a family drama, with the elderly Father, and the repentant Son, being welcomed home.
So many beautiful moments to reflect on as this shows something of the reason why Jesus gave his life for the forgiveness of sin and the salvation of all who will turn – return – to God’s loving embrace.
The poverty of the son, his precious bare feet, soiled with the world’s dirt. His humble, trusting, nearness to the father he has scorned.
The love and weariness in the face of the father. The famous depiction of the two hands resting on the boy’s thin shoulders, as a man’s hand and a woman’s hand… something of the motherly/fatherly welcome we can ourselves receive as we turn again, to where in the deepest most forgiving love, we belong. We truly belong, in the loving embrace of God our Father, Creator. In the presence of a family, redeeming humanity which has set itself of a riotous path far from home.
I would rather know myself to be prodigal daughter than the uptight pious brother who has never left the father’s house. What healing, what new life, what love is poured into those who turn towards Home, in the nearer presence of the Father.
As I face the declining months of my own father’s life, I know I will, at the end trust in the forgiving grace and welcome of God, for him, and for me.
There is a poem called ‘Love’s embrace’ which comes from The Weaver, the Word and Wisdom… I regret I have mislaid the book and can’t give the author…
In Love’s embrace:
I feel the weary weight of your arms
as you embrace me
And the weary wait of your years
of grief and loss.
You who were father and mother to me
Have no reason now
To offer open-handed welcome
When I have deeply wounded you.
I can only bring a wasted, hollow shell
Of who I was, a shadow
Of your hopes and dreams, your child
Who followed an empty vision.
Yet your welcome is overwhelming
Far beyond my dark imagining.
Your passion and generosity
Flows in tears and gifts, too real.
There is jealousy here, a quiet cynicism
And a surly envy.
Those who doubt me know me well
And question the wisdom of welcome.
I too doubt myself, can I live this life?
But here, in Love’s embrace,
Is the seed of grace, the heart of hope
and the beginning of a new journey.