The Baptism of Christ - El Greco (1541-1614)

The Baptism of Christ (detail) – El Greco (1541-1614)

Artists over the centuries have imagined the baptism of Christ in many different ways. The Greek painter who spent a large portion of his career in Toledo Spain and there was known as El Greco himself painted this scene several times, each time with a different perspective, a different emphasis.

When I consider the meaning of various scenes of Scripture, I think of the truth of the adage ‘You never step into the same river twice’. Part of the truth is that the river itself is never the same – the water itself flows past and changes constantly. The other part of the truth is that we ourselves are constantly changing, and therefore experience life differently.

What I appreciate about this particular rendition of this scene are the eyes of Jesus. Sometimes Jesus is imagined with eyes looking down, head bowed with humility before the Holy One above whose commission as Christ he here publicly accepts. Sometimes Jesus is imagined with eyes looking up, head raised to the heavens, with the Holy Spirit descending from the Father above, with Jesus receiving assurance for the divine task before him of the renovation of humanity. But here, on this canvas, it is as if El Greco has Jesus looking directly into the eyes of the people around him. And at this point in my personal life, I find here a particularly meaningful dimension of the baptism of Jesus.

It is as if Jesus is saying ‘I am here to bring God to humanity, I am here to renew humanity and this world. I am here … for you.’

Have a look at the Order of Service for this Sunday and join us in the worship of the God of love, Father Son and Holy Spirit. There is a nursery for infants, a programme for children, and ample free parking along the street and in a public lot behind the church off Queen Street.

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The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated by many Christian communities around the world this Sunday, Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic. The resources for this year have been written by the Christians of Latvia. There are devotions for each day and can be found at https://www.councilofchurches.ca/our-faith/week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity/eight-days-biblical-reflections/

I was nurtured and serve in a particular branch of the Church of Christ known as ‘Reformed’. And today I remember that at what is acknowledged as the beginning of this tradition, Jean Calvin prayed for the purification and renewal and reformation of the Church, not its division.

In April 1552 Calvin in Geneva wrote to Archbishop Cranmer “Amongst the greatest evils of our century must be counted the fact that the churches are so divided one from another that there is scarcely even a human relationship between us; at all events there is not the shining light of that holy fellowship of the members of Christ, of which many boast in word, but which few seek sincerely indeed. In consequence, because the members are torn apart, the body of the church lies wounded and bleeding. So far as I have it in my power, if I am thought to be of any service, I shall not be afraid to cross ten seas for this purpose, if that should be necessary.”

The ‘greatest of evils’ is even greater for the four and half centuries that have passed since. I believe we are being brought to understand how much our communion and our witness is undermined by our division. Our different perspectives and experiences of the Holy One revealed in Jesus are not exclusive but complementary. Our different gifts provide balance and therefore strength. And perhaps most important of all, our unity is the express will of the one whose name we bear – ‘There will be one flock, one shepherd’ (John 10:16).

This morning at St. Andrew’s we will celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by welcoming the newest addition to our downtown Christian leadership, The Rev. Susan McAllister of Princess Street United Church. Join us in praise, and especially in prayer (ample free parking is available along the streets and in the public lot behind the church just off Queen Street; a nursery for infants and programme for children is offered during the service).

I conclude with a phrase in the Latvian liturgy that introduces the reading of the Scripture lessons … ‘The Word of God is an explosion of love in our lives. Thanks be to God.’ So may it be!

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These weeks of Epiphany we are exploring what it means to be human through some of the characters of the gospel according to Matthew. With the magi, we have acknowledged that we live in a world of grace, with God seeking us out and drawing us in. With Herod, the big king who was threatened by the little King, we have acknowledged that there is something in us that resists the intrusion of God into ‘our’ world, and that the result includes the suffering of innocent others as well as our own. This morning we conclude by looking at the Christ child, and the new beginning we believe the Holy One has given us, and has given humanity, in him.

Jesus as a child in Nazareth

Jesus as a child in Nazareth

I like this painting a lot. It speaks of the return of the Holy Family from refuge in Egypt to settle in Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23). But it speaks even more loudly to me of the humanity of Jesus. It reminds me of all those quiet years of our Lord spent ‘en famille’ and in ‘ordinariness’. Even more, it reminds me how Jesus laid down a new way for all humanity. This painting declares the great embrace of God in the incarnation by transposing the gospel narrative to a typical Cameroonian village. It is exciting to wonder about God growing a new humanity all around the world, perhaps even in my community and life!

It is part of an awesome series that can be seen at www.jesusmafa.com (with this painting reproduced with permission from Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)

Join us this Sunday to wonder, to pray, to praise. (A nursery is offered for infants, and programme during part of the service for children. Ample free parking is available on the street and in the public lot behind the church on Queen Street.) And linger afterwards for a monthly congregational pot-luck lunch!

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Are you a Student who enjoys Singing?

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (corner of Princess at Clergy)
invites applications for its Choral Scholarship Program

Successful candidates will:

  • receive an honorarium for singing in the church choir
  • gain choral experience and vocal technique, note reading and theory
  • have fun singing with a friendly supportive choir

Choir rehearsals are Thursdays 6:00pm  to  7:30pm

Please apply to our Director of Music, John Hall:

Email –  
johnhall@canadianpianos.ca 
Phone – 613-354-5066 (residence)613-546-6316 (church)

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The magi have been a favourite theme of Christian art, ever since there was such a thing. Long before shepherds appeared on Christmas scenes, even before Jesus was sculpted and painted in a crib with ox and donkey behind, the coming of the magi was portrayed. From the earliest times, from as early as the third century, the magi are to be found depicted in catacombs and on sarcophagi.

So many wonderful themes are entwined in the story of the magi (Matthew 2) – these include the affirmations that faith is a journey, and there is great joy in giving. But as I have been considering this story, it is God’s grace that comes to the fore for me this week. The magi were ‘outsiders’ who were not of God’s covenant people, but God sought them out and lead them to the side of the Christ. The magi sought meaning in the inanimate stars, but God used their seeking to bring them to he who John would declare is ‘the way, the truth, the life’ (John 14:6). This story is all about God’s grace, and our joy. No wonder it has been a favourite scene in the worship of Christians through the millennia!

Radiant One, every day is an epiphany in which I, too, can pay you homage. Every day I can kneel before you and open the treasure chest of my life. In there, I find unending gifts of every kind to offer you. Every day I bring my gratitude to you, my desire to grow more loving, my longing to be true. Every day I reach into that treasure chest and offer my trust that you are near, my hope for all you promise, my belief in what is unseen. Every day I offer my desire to live justly, my commitment to be generous, my struggle to be whole. Divine Light, I give these gifts and so much more … Bestower of Gifts, thank you for all that my treasure chest of life holds. (Joyce Rupp)

Join us as we hear the story and sing the joy of Epiphany this Sunday. A nursery for infants is available during the service. Free parking is available along the streets and in a city lot off Queen Street just behind the church.

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