Thursday, 29 May 2014

Gone, but with us always

Ascensiontide preachers at St James have a giant visual aid to assist them.

It is 11 feet wide, 23 feet high, and it has dominated the interior of the church since its installation in 1846. Together with its text  'Lo, I am with you alway' taken from the King James Bible  (Matthew 28.20), the painting is greatly loved by Bermondsey people.

It orginated in the bequest of  John Harcourt, one of the church's founders, who on his death in 1839, left £500 for a painting of the ascension to be placed over the communion table.

A national competition was held and more than seventy sketches were anonymously submitted by artists on the stated theme, 'THE ASCENSION OF OUR SAVIOUR.'

Some of the leading artists of the day took part, including William Etty, the greatest artist of his day, but the winner was the previously unknown, John Wood. Nonetheless The Times praised his completed work saying it 'should satisfy the eye of the critic and the feelings of the Christian.'

For our Ascension Day service this evening I took as our text, the painting and it's text,  'Lo I am with you alway.'

Whoever first applied the text to the painting knew their Bible well, recognising that the passage we call 'the Great Commission' - which ends 'Lo, I am with you always' - comes from Matthew's account of the Ascension.

And in so doing  they gave the painting a particular spin - a mission spin, pointing us out into the world to 'make disciples of all nations' and to discover in the process that Lord is with us always.

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