Weekly Worship Thought – What Do You See?

Did you ever look at those 3D hidden image posters when you were younger? I think you were supposed to cross your eyes and slowly uncross them. Or stare at the center intensely. Or put your nose against the image and then ease your way backward. Then poof! A 3D image was supposed to appear. I have to confess – I don’t think I ever saw anything in any of them.

What we see matters. Sometimes it is the things we don’t see that matter most. There’s a story in the Bible about a time that Jesus noticed someone that couldn’t see (John 9). The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” What the disciples saw was someone cursed. Jesus saw an opportunity for healing and restoration. After he was cured of his blindness, the people were baffled. “The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’”

The blind man had become invisible. The community was blind to his poverty and need. As a beggar, he had faded into the background of his surroundings. No one noticed him anymore. The story shows that his neighbors couldn’t distinguish if it was really he or someone else; they forgot what he looked like. The greatest sin of this story didn’t have anything to do with the parents. The sin was a community that had forgotten their own needy.

Perhaps you’ve noticed something different at the baptismal font this Lent.

Several people have stopped me and asked what this installation symbolizes. Some have offered their own interpretation. That is the beauty of art – we can see many different things in it depending on our interpretation. When someone asks me what it is, my first response is usually to turn the table and ask them what they see in it. I’ve heard some very interesting and insightful interpretations:

  • The purple cloth could represent the robe that was mockingly placed on Jesus before the crucifixion. (The appointed liturgical color for Lent is purple because purple has long been associated with royalty. In this case, Christ reigns from a cross.)
  • The branches could represent the crown of thorns. Or they could remind us of the desert and Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
  • The large, flat stones could represent the tablets that the Ten Commandments were recorded on.
  • The broken vessel could represent the vinegar that Jesus was offered on the cross. The broken pot reminds me of our brokenness and need for God to make us whole.

The point of the installation is simple: to help us recall the themes of Lent. What about you – what do you see?

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The Symbolism of Baptismal Vestments

From Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit, (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), p. 74-75.

“We know already that the unvesting of the catechumen before Baptism signified the rejection by him of the “old man” and the “old life,” that of sin and corruption. It is indeed sin that revealed their nakedness to Adam and Eve and made them conceal it with vestments. But why were they not ashamed of their nakedness before sin?  Because they were vested in divine glory and light, in the “ineffable beauty” which is the true nature of man. It is this first garment that they lost, and they “knew that they were naked” (Gen. 3:7). But then the post-baptismal vesting in the “robe of light” signifies above all the return of man to the integrity and innocence he had in Paradise, the recovery by him of his true nature obscured and mutilated by sin. St. Ambrose compares the baptismal robe to the vestments of Christ on Mount Tabor. The Transfigured Christ reveals perfect and sinless humanity as not “naked” but vested in garments “white like snow,” in the uncreated light of divine glory. It is Paradise, not sin, that reveals the true nature of man; it is to Paradise and to his true nature, to his primordial vestment of glory, that man returns in Baptism.”