Jim Janknegt

Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending (The Beauty of His Return)

Jim Janknegt: I will make all things new (2005)

 

The title of this post comes from Charles Wesley’s hymn-text adaptation of words from Revelation that refer to the Second Coming of Christ in glory: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Rev 1:7). In this first week of Advent, and perhaps having sung Wesley’s hymn on Sunday, we need to explore what this ‘wailing’ may involve.

Many people today regard the Second Coming as something prompting fear about a Final Judgment. This may be one cause for the wailing that Wesley anticipates. Though texts in Revelation, as well as in the Gospels, certainly involve this theme, Revelation’s author is also very clear in expressing a faith that Christ’s return will involve restoration, the fulfillment of promises, and the beauty of shared glory. Hence, the wailing may also reflect holy sorrow stemming from a deepened awareness of personal sin, accompanied by ‘tears of joy’ over being forgiven.

Wesley’s verse 2 of his hymn predicts the first dimension of wailing: “Every eye shall now behold him, robed in dreadful majesty; those who set at nought and sold him, pierced, and nailed him to the tree, deeply wailing, … shall the true Messiah see.” Verse 3 describes the second dimension: “Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears, cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshipers; with what rapture, … gaze we on those glorious scars!”

Words in Revelation, preceding and following its prediction about how “all tribes of the earth will wail,” provide a foundation for hope. The author says at the beginning of this last book of the Bible (1:4-5), “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from … Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead…” And then (in 1:8) we find, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come…’”

These words are echoed near the end of Revelation, where we find a description of the New Jerusalem and a renewed Creation. Among them are these: “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new'” (21:5).

Jim Jaknegt’s painting, I will make all things new, expressively captures the positive dimension of these themes and the ground for hope that lies in the beauty of the Lord’s return. All things! That is a phrase worth exploring in terms of quite a number of biblical texts, especially Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

In the first chapter, Paul writes, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (1:16-17). Paul then indicates (1:19-20) the ground for hope regarding “all things,” which Janknect suggestively depicts: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven…”  God’s ultimate goal in all this is reconciliation rather than condemnation, even though people who dismiss God’s ongoing work of reconciliation may find themselves brought to sadness.

Notice the pronounced swirling motion in Janknegt’s painting, as all things are caught up into the returned Lord’s orbit. But all people? For unlike flora and fauna, as well as inanimate objects, human beings made in God’s image and likeness possess the freedom of will either to accept or to refuse God’s initiatives to reconcile us into divine intimacy. This is why there may be at least two dimensions to the wailing that the Lord’s return is likely to initiate. For grief over sin may bear fruit in repentance.

We should therefore note the words of invitation at the end of Revelation: “‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)

 

Jim Janknegt is a painter who is based in the Austin, Texas, area, who has produced a remarkably large body of work based on biblical themes and imagery. The website featuring his work can be found at http://bcartfarm.com/ I have admired, and with his permission have featured, his images for many years. Lo! He comes with clouds descending appears as Hymn 57 in The Episcopal Church’s The Hymnal 1982.

 

Literal, Figurative and Mystical Beauty

 

How we move and act, when we celebrate and receive communion, communicates something just as important as the words we use in the same context. Our actions communicate that we take seriously Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel. For Jesus says, “…my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” By how we move and act in our Eucharist together, we show that we know his words are true. Our actions display our belief that we have life in him – that we now share his own life with our Father in heaven.

Along with many Christians we know that bread and wine consecrated in the Eucharist become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This links us, as Anglicans, with Lutherans, the Eastern Orthodox, as well as Roman Catholics. For we all recognize that what we receive in our hands and through our lips is no longer simply bread and wine, even if they may still taste like bread and wine. Something happens in the course of the Eucharistic Prayer. And it happens when we pray in obedience to Jesus’ command, “do this in remembrance of me.” What happens is a real change in the bread and wine, so that they become the risen body and blood of our Lord. And this is the key. For the real change in the bread and the wine happens so that there then can be a real change in us.

We need to notice what many of Jesus’ first followers did not understand. His words are multi-layered, and have at least three meanings: Jesus’ words first have literal meaning; his words also have figurative meaning; and third, his words have mystical meaning. With his words, Jesus tells us he is giving himself to us, and that he is giving himself for us. Jim Janknegt’s painting, The Bread of Life, reproduced above, beautifully captures all three meanings.

Jesus’ words to us are at first literal, in the sense that he really means for us to eat and drink, and that what we eat and drink will really be him.

But Jesus’ words, in addition to being literal, are also figurative or metaphorical. For Jesus was not speaking of his earthly physical body and blood when he literally meant for us to eat and drink him. He was referring to his yet-to-be-revealed, risen, heavenly body. Because – as it soon became apparent – he did not leave his earthly, physical body behind for us to partake of. And so, he means for us literally to eat and drink his heavenly body and blood.

And, in addition to being literal and figurative, Jesus’ words are also mystical. When we literally eat and drink his heavenly body and blood, we abide in him – we live in him and he lives in us. When we eat and drink his risen body and blood, we have eternal life with him in God. And we will live forever in the fullness of life, in a state of blessed flourishing. Having refused Satan’s temptation, Jesus does not turn stones into bread to feed himself; he turns himself into bread to feed the world.

 

This post is based on my homily for Sunday, August 19, 2018, which be accessed by clicking here. Jim Janknegt’s painting, The Bread of Life, is reproduced here with his permission. His many paintings can be seen on his website, which can be accessed by clicking here.

The Beauty of Kingdom Potential

 

What has Jim Janknegt depicted with his painting? Right away, we can see that he portrays the Kingdom mustard seed parable in Mark’s Gospel. With his focus on this parable, we should remember that the Gospels include two kinds of mustard seed teaching. One is in Jesus’ parable ~ about the huge potential of what God can do with apparently small bits of the Kingdom. Jesus’ other teaching is about the tremendous potential of what we might accomplish through personal believing, especially given how personal faith can otherwise be deficient or defective.

To help recognize this difference, between Jesus’ Kingdom parable and his other teaching referring to the size of our personal believing, consider what we see in Janknegt’s painting. In the foreground we see things we usually think of as being big ~ like big cities, their large buildings and the businesses they house. Dwarfing them is a great tree, which may represent the ‘Tree of Life.’ Like the small mustard seed, the great tree that it becomes represents what the Spirit is doing with God’s Kingdom.

Notice the community for which the great tree provides a place of habitation ~ a community characterized by many birds, including both a beautiful peacock and a spoonbill, an owl and a descending dove. In traditional mythology, birds represent communication between the realm of the sky and the realm of the land, or between the heavenly sphere and that of the earth. The Tree of Life provides a context for this communication, and for the Kingdom community that God’s Spirit nurtures between the two.

If we ever worry or despair about the smallness of our faith, we should remember Jesus’ emphasis upon the huge potential of God’s Kingdom power. The seed of this Kingdom potential is planted within us at our Baptism.

 

This post is based on my homily for Sunday, June 17, 208, which can be accessed by clicking here. Jim Janknegt’s painting, Worlds Smallest Seed, is used here with his permission.