Archives For Rembrandt

 

Moving slowly with the wind,
.  elements of thread bare rags
.  sit idle on the parched and colourless ground.

Curled up in a ball.
Like a wounded child dressed in dust.

Frayed fabric sways,
shifted by the breeze and its biting thrust;
fragments of its former self.

Silently dancing to discordance
.            bowing to abandonment and its solemn discourse.
No owner to be found.

O dry-eyed,
.                   whimpering bundle;
.                   rarely loved,
.                   emptied of life,
.                   left to lie on the cold and barren ground.

Resolved you sit,
.               begging for patience to fill every tear less cry,

Sorrow heaves like vomit
. up through whisper, heart, and broken tongue,
.     the only prayers are sighs.

O hear the beating of distant drums
From morbid light to cheerful sun.

Raise your head to see
Your shadow in the hands of the One
.       who now stands,
.       and by your side,
.       picks you up to breathe.

Picks you up to give you life;
.  Life emptied of lifelessness,
.     Like day emptied of night.


(©RL2017)

‘And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.’

(Matthew 8:2-3, ESV)

Image credit: Rembrandt, The Leper at Capernaum, 1657-60

paul-schneider-quote-2Arrested four times, Paul Schneider became one of the first theologians of the Confessing Church to be murdered by the Nazis, and the first protestant pastor to die in a Nazi concentration camp.

In a nut shell, Schneider was labelled a firebrand. Like a lot of the Confessing Church Pastors and theologians, his theological resistance was “politically incorrect”.

His defiance was a veritable revolt against ‘compromise with Nazi ideology, and the indifference of the people.’[i]

As a result the ‘terror state would forbid him to preach, and attempt to silence his opposition by enforcing a form of exile’[ii]. Schneider was later arrested and imprisoned.

His tenacity is evidenced by accounts such as this:

‘In January 1939 two prisoners who tried to escape were hanged in front of the assembled inmates. Paul Schneider called out through his cell window: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners…The response was another twenty-five lashes.’ (source)

Greg Slingerland narrates the scene brilliantly:

On a January morning in 1939 in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, two beleaguered prisoners who had attempted to escape were brought into the parade grounds of the camp. There they were mercilessly executed.  As the bodies of the two prisoners went limp, a voice rang out across the camp from the window of the punishment cell.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners!”

Not quite six months later, Schneider, beaten and starved, was euthanized by the Buchenwald camp doctor. Schneider was survived by his wife, Margarete and their six children. (source [iii])

Along with Schneider’s outspoken preaching in prison, his theologically informed political defiance permeated his sermons.

The first in 1934, where he firmly asserts a theological critique against the ideology of the day:

‘we have tolerated the teachings of Balak (Numbers 22.6), of liberalism that praises goodness and freedom of men and women while minimising the honour of God and letting the seriousness of eternity fade away into a misty haze[iv]we cannot close our eyes to the high storm-waves we see surging toward our people in the Third Reich[v]

The other is in a sermon smuggled out of a Gestapo prison camp in 1937 entitled: ‘About Giving Thanks in the Third Reich’. He draws deliberately onBelshazzar, a poem written by Heinrich Heine, a 19th century German Jewish poet[vi].’

Schneider matches the attitudes of late 1930’s Germany with the attitude of ‘the Babylonian ruler, who fully ripened in his godless, proud, and wasteful misuse of God’s gifts, had drunk himself sick and mocked God’[vii] (Daniel 5:13-30)

‘…His face is flushed, his cheeks aglow, till a sinful challenge to God resounds.
He boasts and blasphemes against the Lord, to the roaring cheers of his servile horde…
“Jehovah, your power is past and gone – I am the King of Babylon”
But scarce the awful word was said, the King was stricken with secret dread.
The raucous laughter silent falls, it is suddenly still in the echoing halls.
And see!
As if on the wall’s white space, a human hand began to trace.
Writing and writing across the stone, letters of fire, wrote, and was gone
The King sat still, with staring gaze, his knees were water, ashen his face.
Fear chilled the vassals to the bone, fixed they sat and gave no tone.
Wise men came, but none was equipped, to read the sense of the fiery script.
Before the sun could rise again, Belshazzar by his men was slain.’(source)

 

Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar's_Feast_-_WGA19123

Dean Stroud notes:

‘Schneider no longer believed that ‘’our evangelical church” (read German Evangelical [Free] Church) could avoid direct conflict with the Nazi state’[viii]

For the Church in the West, these are still ominous words. As witness (marturion; martyr) they also point us towards the ‘storms that are not so much around us, but in our hearts.[ix]

Heard as they must be heard, Schneider joins the chorus of voices who cry out to us today against complacency, indifference, arrogance, and the unwillingness to face the danger posed by those who seek to be our ideological masters. Dangers that we as a multi-ethnic community can still face up to together, or continue to ignore and find ourselves bound together under those ideologies to their yoke of slavery.

“In regimenting German thought, all radio programs emanate from the – [state own broadcaster] – the Department of propaganda. Every newspaper prints only what the State wants its people to read and any letter in the German mail is subject to censorship. For in Nazi Germany any instrument that forms thought, communicates ideas; must be used to glorify the Nazi super state and its demigod”
(Henry R. Luc, Julien Bryan, Louis de Rochemont, March of Time: Inside Nazi Germany, 1938)

Each poignantly targeted at us today, Schneider’s words and example, are yet another loud theological indictment on the lifelessness of ideological servitude.

For:

“The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain.”
(Ronald Reagan, 1964. A Time For Choosing)

References:

[i] Stroud, D. (ed.) 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance, Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing p.75

[ii] Ibid, p.94

[iii] This website is in German, but can be translated via the Google toolbar. {the mechanic seems reliable}

[iv] Given the content, what he means here is a view of freedom without responsibility; power without accountability; denial of the transcendent.

[v]  Ibid, p.80 (Schneider)

[vi] Ibid, p.96 (Schneider)

[vii] Ibid, p.104 (Schneider)

[viii] Ibid, p.76

[ix] Ibid, p.82 (Schneider)

Image 1: Rembrandt, 1686-8 ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’

Image 2: Paul Schneider, graphic created using picmonkey

Updated 15th May 2017, from an article I originally posted on October 1st, 2014

I recently had the privilege of writing a sermon based on John 20. Part of the exegesis (which basically means ‘reason enabled worship’ – Rev. Dr. Stephen Spence, paraphrased) led me to this poem written in 1919 by Free Church Pastor (i.e.: not Lutheran, Catholic or Anglican) Edward Shillito (1872-1948):

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Christian scholar D.A Carson is fond of this poem featuring it two times on separate occasions, once in his commentary on John and once in his 2010 work, ‘The God who is there’.  Carson boldly states that Shillito’s poem ‘deserves wide circulation’ (2010:162), and  I couldn’t agree more with his assessment.

A quick Google, or Yahoo search uncovers the numerous blogs that have already highlighted the significance of this poem. So in some respects you would be justified for suggesting to me, that posting Edward Shillito’s little 94 year old poem seems desperate, tired and overdone.

However, it is difficult to escape the unique subtly hidden within Shillito’s words. The historical backdrop of Shillito’s poem is World War One – a devastating and senseless war which proudly rode on the back of progressive theory –  a time when humanity was stunned by the false dawn of the ‘Bella époque’, mesmerized by Art Nouveau and stunted by it’s obsession with self, sophistication and social status.

Rembrandt_Crucifixion 1600s

Crucifixion scenes

In context the gravity of Shillito’s words looms like a thousand thunder heads approaching children who are far from home, happy and yet ignorant of the danger which rapidly approaches them. Once matched with some paintings and drawings from Dutch Artist Rembrandt Van Rijn, the existential reality which ‘Jesus of the scars’ promotes, appears as an ominous warning, generously whispered to humanity from 20th Century history which says  – never forget, remember ‘we were once, as you are now – and we are now as you may one day be’.

These faint impressions seem morbid and dark, but I assure you that they only reflect the theological assessments that pertain to our current reality. For example: as the centenary celebrations of key historical events that occurred in Shillito’s time begin, we are reminded of the ‘nothing’ which enslaves, corrupts and seeks to devour humanity under it’s many benevolent disguises. It is perhaps no better illustrated than last years 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Hence, ‘Jesus of the scars’ reaches beyond just being designated a stale reposting. Like Shillito Rembrandt illuminates on the presence and reality of Christ in human suffering and the promise of gracious guidance into ‘newness of life’ – If we listen closely enough we may just catch what it was that Don Carson heard when he first encountered it.

The-Incredulity-of-St-Thomas-1634

a) The Incredulity of St Thomas: 1634

Watts states that ‘despite all his personal anguish, misfortune and struggles, Rembrandt never lost his ability to see beyond appearances and into another world’ (2009:13).

The-Supper-at-Emmaus---Alternate-title-Christ-at-Emmaus_Jesus of the Scars_Young Jewish Christ

a) Christ-at-Emmaus b) Young Jewish man – Christ

For me, Shillito and Rembrandt highlight important chapters in the history of the Church. Shillito is regarded as a minor poet, yet his war time sonnet is far reaching. ‘Jesus of the scars’ viewed as an expression of raw emotion, faith and reason, reflects a submissive and grateful response which places the relevance of Jesus the Christ at the front and centre of the human struggle.

Sources:

Carson, D.A 2010 the God who is there Baker Books Baker publishing house Grand Rapids MI. USA
Rembrantonline.org
Watts, G. 2009 History Makers illustrated: Rembrandt Lion Hudson plc