“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” – Colossians 1:15
A picture paints a thousand words. We have heard that phrase a million times. There is a lot of truth to that, because we are very willing to believe our eyes much more than we will our ears as we listen to another account from someone else of what they saw.
The same is true of stories. We like our stories, but if they can come with pictures…even better. For 80% of Americans, watching television is the first choice of leisure activities. When asking a similar audience, studies have shown that half of all Americans prefer watching the news rather than reading it. The readers of news also surpassed listeners by 34% to 19%. In other words, we like our pictures.
This is not new. There is this myth in history that once the Enlightenment came, the whole world became literate, or at least an overwhelming percentage of it did. This was mostly true of the clergy and the nobility, but for the common man, and even for some elites, literacy was an afterthought. Hence the amount of art that makes up the architecture of churches in Europe. With this art came beauty and innumerable practices in our ecclesiastical tradition that have added greatly to the habits of congregations around the world. Illiteracy was the reason why St. Francis created the Nativity scene so that the poor would know the story of Christmas. It is why we have statues and paintings of biblical heroes, and why hymns exist to try and teach the faith through melodies that get stuck in our heads. With 1 in 7 Americans being functionally illiterate, these pictures added to our stories would not be considered antiquated but necessary for the nurturing of the faithful in all generations.
As we enter into Lent this month, one of the Lenten devotions that is almost as old as the church itself is the walking of “The Stations of the Cross.” Originating during pilgrimages to Jerusalem where travelers desired to walk in the footsteps of Christ to Calvary along the Via Dolorosa, the “Stations” are a mainstay among our Catholic and Anglican brothers and sisters (especially on Fridays during Lent), and have seen a resurgence in Lutheran denominations since the 1960’s. Based on fifteen events in the account of Good Friday and Easter, from the agony in the garden to the resurrection, the walk is always accompanied with visuals and Scripture in order to capture all the senses so that we might find ourselves sucked into the most important time in history.
This year, our youth are going to explore three stations each week, and then make their own interpretation of each one using old magazines to construct collages. This allows them room to use their imaginations and make the events of their redemption more real for them.
Now, some Protestants get angry about pictures in church because of the idea that we are not supposed to make graven images. This is why, in the American Protestant tradition, very few churches have a crucifix or art to assist in our worship because we believe it to be blasphemy and a sin. Yet, let me ask you this, did Jesus have a body? Did He have a face and skin? Did He have blood pumping through His veins? Yes, He did. Jesus is the breaker of any expectations we may have around images of God because He is God made manifest before us. He is the image of the invisible God. He is God con carne. He is the One who speaks to Philip, “The one who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) God uses all sorts of physically ordinary things to convey His promise and redeem His creation. The physical Body of His Son dying on a cros