The publication this season of JESUS: Who Do You Say That I Am? could not have come at a more perfect time, coinciding with the unveiling (re-birth really) of a special stained glass window at my church, Emmanuel Howard Park United in Toronto. The window’s image, of Christ holding a lantern, is based on a painting entitled “The Light of the World” by the PreRaphaelite William Holman Hunt. So perfect was this painting that it was for a time the most reproduced image in the world. (At Emmanuel Howard Park United there are no less than three versions of it.)
This particular stained glass window has an exceptionally perfect story. Commissioned by the church janitor to commemorate the life of his son killed in WWI, it was the only window to survive a church fire in the 40s, but remained virtually unseen in a little used stairwell for over 70 years until this fall when it came to the attention of a few people at the church who worked through a labyrinth of unusual to say nothing of improbable circumstances until this December, when the window was cleared of obstructions and backlit. It is now a beacon of light that presents a welcoming message directly on to the main street of our bustling community.
The LIFE publication appeared on magazine racks by the cash registers at my local grocery store just at the same time as the Emmanuel Howard Park window was lit up. One can imagine the enormous number of people this little publication is reaching, putting it into that special category of (publishing) miracles.
JESUS, Who Do You Say That I Am? is a perfect publication is so many way. It fleshes out the details of Christ’s life with stories and pictures that bring the places, the geography and culture of the times alive. It lays out the story from the Bible with a mixture of interpretiion, theology and history so we can understand, without judging, what people believe and where there are doubts. It’s an exquisite balancing act.
The final section, “He Is All Things to All Men,” shows how Christ figures into the work and lives of organizations and individuals around the world. But then, after consulting notable scholars, the Surgeon General of the U.S. and the Cardinal of New York City, LIFE settles on three of the unlikeliest of characters to draw the whole thing together.
They choose three artists, musicians Moby, Aaron Neville and Willy Nelson, to deliver personal accounts of how Christ figures into their lives.
Moby relates most to the glorious side of the Son of God. He believes in Jesus, he says, but isn’t going to make a big deal about it; he’s content with the idea that the universe is “an unknowable but fascinating and wonderful place.”
Neville relates most to the compassion of Christ, describing personal feelings of empathy for Christ’s suffering and joys, and recalling a moving prayer/story about footprints in sand.
Nelson takes things in completely different direction that for me cuts to the quick of thinking about Jesus. He begins by quoting Matthew 5:48: ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.’ then goes on to say, “The purpose of life is to reach perfection. The rose starts as a seed or cutting, then grows and prospers with the sunshine and the rain. After a period of time, the perfect rose blossoms. The human experience is much the same, except the time span is much greater because man, before he can reach this state of perfection, must return again and again through many incarnations in order to conquer all disease, greed, jealousy, anger, hatred and guilt. In order to achieve perfection man must use his imagination to create an image of himself in his mind as a happy, healthy person, perfect in every way. He must pattern himself after the master of perfection, such as the great master Jesus.”
In today’s world, so fraught with violence and misunderstanding, it’s odd to hear someone holding out for the possibility of perfection. Yet there is perfection in this little publication with the not so little circulation. And there is perfection in its timing, coinciding as it did with the most perfect resurrection of the heart of a modest downtown church in Toronto.
With the brilliance of perfection all around, the darkness of doubt is extinguished.