Probably a year or so ago, I was driving through Lockport, headed east on NY-31. One of the places that I passed was a Lutheran church building. On the front of the building is the multi-faceted symbol that you see above.
As I have grown older and become more educated, there is one thing I have come to mourn in the wake of the division between the Roman Catholic Church and the rest of the Protestant church world (CCC, falls into the Protestant vein of church history). I mourn because this division initiated the removal of images from worship in the churches that separated from the Roman Catholic Church. Initially, the removal of images was a knee-jerk reaction to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which used images (or icons) as a tool for worship to help connect the worshiper to God. The more controversial use of images involved the use of images in praying to saints. In an attempt to maintain the sacredness of God and to not violate the scriptural command to not make a graven image and worship it, many reformers took this removal of art process so far that, in some church buildings, only white walls and plain furnishings became the norm.
Now, CCC’s building isn’t quite this boring. There is some color and artistic expression. But, you will notice that few of the artistic expressions in the CCC building reflect and communicate the beauty and wonder of God and his redemptive mission through the cross and grave.
Now, I am not advocating that, we start erecting and hanging images of God or saints to start venerating (worshiping) them. But, I do wish we had more artistic expressions of our faith and God, so that we could be formed into Christ-likeness through them.
Many of us that have grown-up in a modern world, have lived-through the era in which the old and traditional are passé. We have become accustomed to the old being done away-with and the new being instituted. This transition happens in all aspects of life: your tube-tv replaced with a flat-screen tv; your land-line phone replaced with a smart phone; or your newspaper replaced with online social media. The same has happened in our buildings and engineering. It is only in the past few years that rustic has become a fad — reintroducing the items of the past that we once removed.
Not all fit in this category, but I know my own generation is caught-in-the-middle of this transition. We’ve lived through the height of the modern era, with the rise of the technology age. And, we’re currently living in the era of meshing the technological age with the discarded traditions of the past. My generation seems to have a renewed interest with traditions. From what I can tell, this renewed interest indicates a desire to find identity. We desire to know who we are, what shapes us, where we come from, and what group we are part of?
Also, take this desire for tradition and rootedness and place it beside the current biblical and theological illiteracy of people in the U.S. We live in a day-and-age where people know little-to-nothing about the Bible or the Lord that it points to. One of the reasons I mourn the loss of the artistic expressions of God and the biblical story in our church buildings is because I think we are missing what our ancestors understood, but we failed to pass-down. The brothers and sisters in Christ, who came before us, covered their worship spaces with all sorts of art and expressions of God and his redemptive story. From the moment you walked into these church buildings, almost every aspect of the building communicated something about God and his redemptive story — whether it was a mosaic of Christ as the lamb of God on the floor, or the story of the Bible from creation-the gospels on stained glass windows, or the majesty of God and his realm in heaven depicted on the ceiling. One of the reasons our ancestors included this much art in their worship spaces was because it enabled illiterate people (not just illiterate in the Bible, but illiterate in language, in general) to walk into that space and still be confronted with the beauty and wonder of God and his redemptive story.
The symbol I saw on the Lutheran church building in Lockport is one example of art expressing the beauty of God and his redemptive story. The circle depicts the unity of God — that he is one God. Yet, the three images depict that this one God expresses himself in three persons. The cross represents Jesus. The right hand represents God the Father. And, the dove represents the Spirit of God. It is within the trinity (One God, in three persons) that we see the Son of God, who was obedient to his heavenly Father, who loved him enough to raise him back to life, and seated him at his “right” hand, and the sent forth his Spirt to dwell within the hearts of believers (his church on earth). Within this one artistic expression, the beauty of the gospel is displayed.
This past week, we read Psalm 17. In that Psalm there is a line, “Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.” Throughout the Old Testament, the image of a right hand often describes God as powerful. It is used in relation to his power of deliverance (e.g. The Israelites delivered from Egypt). This image more clearly defines God when Jesus comes on the scene. As we follow the life of Jesus we see that he becomes elevated to the right hand of his Father in heaven (Luke 22:69 is one example). The right hand imagery of God now, not only depicts God’s power (e.g. Jesus’ resurrection), but also depicts his Fatherhood (e.g. The relationship between Jesus as the Son of his Heavenly Father).
How simple an image, but how powerful and impactful is the beauty and wonder that it communicates. This image, as you will recall, if included in the symbol I saw on the Lutheran church building. I hope the image of God’s right hand also causes you to wonder at the beauty, majesty, and power of God and his redemptive story through his Son Jesus.