Seventh Sunday After Easter Year C

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. Revelation 22:17

Welcome. Our handout features the readings for the Seventh Sunday After Easter (May 29, 2022) in Year C of our Lectionary.

We listen to this text [Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21], not as passive receivers, but as active participants asked to be prepared to enter into the community. This is a call to ministry, not a ticketed invitation to sit in a stadium and watch a spectacle. It is a reminder that being a Christian assumes an active disposition and an attitude of grace-filled practice within the community of faith.

Paul “Skip” Johnson in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2

“Skip” Johnson is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and Care, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. His commentary on the reading from the Book of Revelation is featured in our handout for study in the week beginning May 29, 2022 (see link below).

Rather than predict the time of Christ’s return, Professor Johnson suggests that we are invited to be active with grace-filled practices, right here, right now. What practices come to mind for you as you await Christ’s return?

Pay attention. Keep learning.

View or download the Handout for The Seventh Sunday After Easter, Year C including short biographies for Blandina and her companions and the Martyrs of Uganda.

View or download Art for Easter +7C. with commentary by Hovak Najarian.

Please come back to this site throughout the week in order to keep learning.

Image: Communication Resources

Ascension Day Year C

May you be strengthened to proclaim Jesus Christ ….

Welcome. Our handout features the readings for Ascension Day (May 26, 2022) in Year C of our Lectionary.

Jerusha Matsen Neal an Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School writes, “Jesus’ ascension in Acts is no text of glory. It is a text that stands with those in countries far from home, those whose witness has been costly, and those who do not see “convincing proofs” (verse 3) of resurrection. It is, in fact, a passage about a community of faith that relinquishes the “proof” of Christ’s risen body for the “promise” of a Spirit (verses 4-5) coming.”

Ascension Day, for Acts’s disciples, looks more like trust in the face of uncertainty. It looks more like prayerful commitment and costly witness. It looks a lot like today. 

Jerusha Matsen Neal

Called to trust in the face of uncertainty, how do you move to that place of trust? What is called forth in your heart? in your mind? in your will to do something?

Pay attention. Keep learning.

View or download the Handout for Ascension Day, Year C. The full commentary by Jerusha Matsen Neal is included.

Please come back to this site throughout the week in order to keep learning.

Sixth Sunday After Easter Year C

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” –Acts 16:9

Welcome. Our handout features the readings for the Sixth Sunday After Easter (May 22, 2022) in Year C of our Lectionary.

São Paulo batizando Lídia e sua família – Batistério de Santa Lídia, Cavala (Grécia) – Foto: Reprodução

Lydia is prominent in the reading from Acts (Acts 16:9-15) shared on the Sixth Sunday after Easter in Year C (May 22, 2022). One commentary on this reading notes an important aspect of “biblical faith” …

In the biblical witness, visions from God are not the exception but the norm. Beginning with Adam and Eve and moving throughout the Scriptures to the Apocalypse at the end, God is demonstratively engaged with human affairs to catch our attention and transform us.

David C. Forney, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Clarksville, Tennessee in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year C, vol. 2 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009)

Paul trusted his vision. Do you trust that God is still gracing us with visions? Can you trust your visions? How have you come to trust the God who wants to “catch our attention and transform us”? What do you make of Paul’s experience since the vision and the conclusion seem to be different?

Pay attention. Keep learning.

View or download the Handout for The Sixth Sunday After Easter, Year C including short biographies for Lydia, Helena of Constantinople, and Mechthild of Magdeburg.

View or download Art for Easter +6C. “The Heavenly Jerusalem” a fresco (1090-1100) by an unknown artist with commentary by Hovak Najarian.

Please come back to this site throughout the week in order to keep learning.

Image source: St. Lydia of Thyatira – Unpretentiousness and Generosity by Lorena Mellow in Catholic Magazine, May 2021

Epiphany +7 Year C

Put your trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on its riches. –Psalm 37:3

Welcome. Our handout features the readings for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (Feb. 20 in 2022) in Year C of our Lectionary.

Forgiveness is a prominent theme of the Gospel passage this week. I invite you to explore The Work of Forgiveness a Lectionary Essay by Debie Thomas on the Journey with Jesus webzine.

If forgiveness isn’t denial or a detour, if forgiveness isn’t quick — then what is it?  What is Jesus asking of us when he invites us to love, bless, pray, give, lend, do good, withhold judgment, extend mercy, and turn the other cheek?

The Work of Forgiveness by Debie Thomas

Check out, too, what our Church remembers about Saint Matthias The Apostle and Photini, The Samaritan Woman (at the Well). She is widely honored in the Orthodox traditions and our Episcopal Church joins them in commemorating her. Through this week, read the stories of others who studied, prayed and worked for God’s glory. Let their stories invite you to do the same.

Pay attention. Keep learning.

View or download the Handout for Epiphany +7C including short biographies for Saint Matthias The Apostle and Photini, The Samaritan Woman (at the Well).

View or download an exploration of classicism and romanticism in art by Hovak Najarian.

View or download Art for Epiphany +7C. “Joseph recognized by brothers” by Francois Gerard with commentary by Hovak Najarian.

Please come back to this site throughout the week in order to keep learning.

Epiphany +6 Year C

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. Jer 17:7

Glad you have come here to find the readings for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (Feb. 13 in 2022) in Year C of our Lectionary.

Trust in the Lord, trust in those who testify to God’s love and purposes, trust in those who have gone before you—these are among the themes this Sunday (and this week).

Check out, too, what our Church remembers about Absalom Jones and, through this week, others who trusted in the Lord and worked tirelessly for God’s glory in the name of Jesus.

Finally, check out what Frederick Buechner has to say about the Biblical revelation about resurrection and the notion of immortality. See that he accepts the Biblical revelation and trusts God. What about you?

View or Download today’s handout

The Crucifixion of Christ and the Two Thieves | Art for Proper 29

Luke 23:33 “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.”

The Crucifixion of Christ and the Two Thieves
(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)
The Crucifixion of Christ and the Two Thieves
Red chalk, 394 x 281 mm
British Museum, London
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Crucifixion of Christ and the Two Thieves, c. 1522-24, Red Chalk, Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1475-1564

When early Christian artists began creating visual images of their faith they were faced with questions such as what did Jesus look like? Could or should God be portrayed – if so, how? How would the crucifixion be depicted and what would be the shape of the cross?

Although there were fervent associations with the crucifixion, it was not depicted in art for several hundred years after the event. Then, when it began to be shown, artists did not attempt to give a realistic interpretation. Instead, the crucifixion was used as a symbol. It was in the sixth century that scenes familiar to us today began to appear; in the years that followed, details of the event were reconstructed as artists followed biblical descriptions and used their imaginations. Jesus and the thieves were shown on crosses; Jesus in the center and the thieves on each side. At first, only a few people were present but as compositions became more complex, figures were added; among them were disciples, the three Marys, bystanders, and soldiers (one with a spear and others throwing dice for Christ’s cloak). Some artists placed angels above the cross of Jesus and often a skull was placed at the foot of his cross to indicate this was “the place of the skull.”

Michelangelo’s chalk drawing, “Crucifixion with Two Thieves,” was sketched possibly as a study for a painting and was not intended to be a complete or permanent work. Because chalk does not have within it a binding agent such as egg yolk or linseed oil, it can be rubbed off a surface easily. Some details in this drawing are not clear and almost lost.

Michelangelo depicts the crucifixion as it is taking place. A man on the top of the central cross is making an adjustment to Jesus’ arm while a figure is on a ladder at his feet. Another person is on a ladder at the feet of the thief on the right and an additional ladder is being brought to the site; it is presumed this is to reach the feet of the thief on the left whose unsupported legs are dangling loosely. [It also may be interpreted that this ladder is being removed from the scene] Under the cross on the left are two horses (their images are very light and barely distinguishable). Below the central cross, Mary has fainted and is being assisted. Others are consumed with grief.

The familiar Latin cross has a horizontal section approximately one third down from the top but many other forms have been made. In this drawing the thieves are attached to crossbeams at the very top of the vertical posts, whereas the cross on which Christ is placed is “Y” shaped. This was not a Michelangelo innovation; the “Y” shaped cross was among the earliest depicted in scenes of the crucifixion.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Fall into Ruin of the House of God | Art for Proper 28

Luke21:6 Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Fall into Ruin of the House of God
Fall into Ruin of the House of God
Click image for more information.

Click to find Haggai among the Amiens Cathedral 44 Prophet Quatrefoils
The Lord shows Haggai his vision of the ruined Temple
Quatrefoils on the western exterior, depicting the Temple which the people have allowed to fall into ruin
Cathédrale d’Amiens
Relief sculpture
Amiens, France
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Fall into Ruin of the House of God and The Lord Shows Haggai the Ruined Temple, Stone, c. 1220-1240, Western exterior, Cathedral of Amiens, France

In the year AD 1220 when the construction of the Cathedral of Amiens began, the invention of the printing press was still more than two centuries away. Books were handmade and not available usually to the general public; a majority of people were unable to read. For them, subjects in the Bible were learned through the spoken word and the visual arts. Illustrations in mosaics, stained glass, paintings, and sculptures, re-enforced visually the biblical stories they heard. These arts were an integral part of their churches.

The three recessed arched entrances of the Cathedral of Amiens are covered completely with relief sculpture. The walls are flanked by biblical figures carved in high relief and the space above the central doors – the tympanum – depicts the Last Judgment. From eye level to ground level, a base with two rows of relief sculpture framed in quatrefoils continues around the interior of all the buttresses of the façade. The figures in the base of the central portal depict virtues with their corresponding vices. From there, the rows continue with scenes of the Major and Minor Prophets. The images depicted in the top row show significant events in a prophet’s life; other important events associated with him are placed directly below it.

The prophet Haggai (HAG-eye) is represented by four scenes but he is not pictured on the upper row and he appears in only one of the quatrefoils. The Temple in ruins shown above is in the upper row and God is standing in the quatrefoil directly beneath it; Haggai is seated to his left. God is pointing to the Temple above him and calling Haggai’s attention to the fact that it has been left in ruins by the people. The scenes representing most of the prophets are self-contained; the subjects are complete in themselves. The ruined Temple differs, however, in that it is linked to the scene of God and Haggai below it. The two images support each other to complete a visual message.

In ancient times, people and animals in distant lands tended to be a mystery; often the descriptions of them were a result of the imagination. A host of animals and creatures – sometimes with frightening powers – were imagined and became part of the lore that was passed down through the ages. Bestiaries compiled during the Middle Ages included special attributes and symbolic associations with creatures such as unicorns, basilisks, and griffins. These and other imagined animals often appeared in medieval art. At Amiens, the ruined Temple of God is being inhabited by reptile-like creatures crawling among the fallen stones and rubble.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Resurrection of the Flesh | Art for Proper 27

Luke 20: 33 “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Resurrection of the Flesh
(b. ca. 1450, Cortona, d. 1523, Cortona)
Resurrection of the Flesh
Fresco, width 700 cm
Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Resurrection of the Flesh, fresco, 1499-1502, Luca Signorelli, 1441-1523

Art created in Italy during the turn of the century from the 1490s to the 1520s elicits a sense of awe in us even today. During those years, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Leonardo painted the “Last Supper,” Raphael painted “The School of Athens,” and Luca Signorelli painted his fresco cycle in Orvieto Cathedral. Artists of the High Renaissance achieved their remarkable results because problems that dogged earlier artists for many centuries had been resolved.

The problem of creating pictorial space was resolved in the early fifteenth century but creating a convincing likeness of a human figure from any point of view was another major challenge. Figures in early paintings were depicted usually in a front or side view with little or no sense of movement; they often were ill-proportioned, stiff in appearance, and in sculpture-like poses. Signorelli’s mastery of anatomy, perspective, and foreshortening gave him the skills and freedom to paint the human form in every conceivable position. He seemed to delight in doing so.

At the Cappella Nova (the “New Chapel” – now called the Chapel of San Brizio) in the Cathedral at Orvieto, Signorelli was commissioned first to complete ceiling frescos that were begun by Fra Angelico. Signorelli’s work impressed his patrons (also, his fee was less than that of other artists and he worked faster) and this led to a commission to paint seven side walls. Among the frescos of the side walls are scenes depicting the end of time. The painting, “Resurrection of the Flesh,” illustrates the text found in the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment…. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:51-52, RSV)

In this painting, two larger than life angels are in the sky. They have sounded their trumpets (with Crusader flags attached) and the dead are emerging from the earth; many have risen in full flesh. Others are only partially above the surface and are in the process of lifting themselves out. Some are still in skeleton form; here and there only a skull has popped up. In the central foreground, two men are assisting full-fleshed figures that are emerging and on the far right a man is having a conversation with a group of standing skeletons. Signorelli’s skills matched his fertile imagination and his ability to depict freely the human figure impressed and influenced many of his contemporaries; Michelangelo was among his admirers.

[Signorelli did not seem to have an interest in the accuracy of a skeleton’s form. His rendering of the pelvis is quite inaccurate.]

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry | Art for Proper 26

Luke 19:5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
The Limbourg Brothers
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
French Gothic manuscript illumination
book of hours
1412 – 1416
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem (with Zacchaeus), illumination, 1412-1416, Limbourg brothers (active early 15th century)

In the early fifteenth century, painting on wood panels had gained popularity among artists in Europe but exceptional book illuminators were still in demand; among the finest were the Limbourg brothers (Paul, Jean, and Herman) of Flemish origin. Their book of hours, commissioned by the Duke de Berry of France, is regarded a masterpiece of the International Gothic style. “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem” (with Zacchaeus) is from the Lenten cycle of, “Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.”

Paintings of Christ entering Jerusalem are well known; they show typically a crowd waving palm fronds as Christ nears the gate of the city. He is on a donkey and is followed by Peter leading the disciples; a fine cloth is spread before him as he approaches the gate. Paintings of the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus also are familiar. They show crowds in Jericho standing by the roadside to see Jesus who is on his way to Jerusalem. Zacchaeus, being short in stature is sitting in a sycamore tree in order to see him. [Jesus spoke to him, stayed at his house, and Zacchaeus was converted.] In art, these two events are treated usually as separate subjects but in, “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem,” Zacchaeus makes an unexpected cameo appearance. Perhaps the Limbourgs reasoned he followed Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem and climbed a tree to gather branches and have a better view of this event.

Zacchaeus seems unnoticed by others in this painting. Christ is focused on the people in front of him and is offering them a blessing. Unlike the usual paintings of “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem,” there is no crowd with palms; instead, Zacchaeus is alone dropping branches from a flowering tree. [Palm Sunday also is known as “Flower’s Sunday” or by the name of the tree from which branches are taken. The general term “Branch Sunday” also is used.]

While the Limbourgs were working in France, Brunelleschi, in Italy, was working on details of linear perspective; a means by which an illusion of space can be created on a flat surface. Its use had not spread to France at the time the Limbourgs were active, thus the perspective of the architecture throughout the painting is awkward. The city gate is not in proportion to the size of the people and its entrance is too narrow to accommodate Christ on a donkey. Despite flaws, the human aspects of this painting are foremost. As Christ is entering Jerusalem, he bears a sense of authority and dignity. There is warmth and awe in the faces of the people who are there to welcome him.

[The three Limbourg brothers and the Duke de Berry died in 1416. It is likely they were all victims of the devastating bubonic plague.]

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Dream Vision | Art for Proper 25

Joel 2:28-29 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Dream Vision
DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)
Dream Vision
Watercolour on paper, 30 x 43 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Dream Vision, Watercolor, 1525, Albrecht Durer, 1471-1528

Dreams are not part of our physical world and often their images have no reference to anything we remember having seen or experienced. When a dream is vivid we tend to remember it and wonder if it had meaning. Yet, we tend to be skeptical of those who interpret dreams in other than general terms. It seems reasonable, however, that there are times when the content of a dream (e.g. recurring dreams) may be related to events in a life; especially if an event weighs heavily on a person’s mind. Those who look for meaning believe a great deluge and flood, as in the dream experienced by Albrecht Durer, is related to unexpressed fears and emotional turmoil. Whether or not Durer’s dream was rooted in fear is not known but there was a great deal of turmoil in Germany during the later part of his life.

Durer’s dream came at a time when he was much immersed in the work and teachings of Martin Luther. In 1525, Durer’s native, Nuremburg, became a Protestant city and this resulted in great anger from the Roman Church. Durer’s frightening dream took place that very same year. Upon awakening, he recalled the dream in writing and recorded it in a watercolor study called “Dream Vision.” His written account tells of an intense experience that left him trembling. Three years later, Durer died and Martin Luther wrote:

It is natural and right to weep for so excellent a man – still you should rather think him blessed, as one whom Christ has taken in the fullness of his wisdom and by a happy death from these most troublesome times, and perhaps from times even more troublesome which are to come, lest one who was worthy to look on nothing but excellence, should be forced to behold things most vile.

Dreams come in a variety of forms and, unlike the one experienced by Durer, many are pleasant. Often the term “dream” itself is used with positive associations and as a metaphor for a conscious desire; we may wish for a “dream” job, vacation, or home. On a conscious level, dreams also are visualizations of possibilities. Airplanes became a reality because humans observed birds and dreamed of flying. Because we dreamed, men walked on the moon.

The Book of Joel cites blessings that were to be bestowed on Israel. In addition to material blessings, God promised a special gift – the gift of the spirit, of dreams and visions; “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). Revelation, enlightenment, and wondrous achievements have been the result of this gift.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

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