St Paul’s Canterbury,29th September 2013, Pentecost 19
Sixth in a Series of Sermons
on the paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer
The Images used in this Series are taken from
Sir Stanley Spencer’s Paintings of
Sir Stanley Spencer’s Paintings of
“Christ in the Wilderness”, held in the
Gallery of Western Australia in
Gallery of Western Australia in
The Rt. Rev'd John Bayton, AM
Stanley Spencer’s Image: THE SCORPION
Jeremiah 32 v 1-3a, 6-15. Psalm 91 v 1-6, 14-16. 1 Tim 6 v 6-19. Luke 16 v 19-31.
The Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels
THE FULLNESS OF TIME
On a rusty throne
Past the furthest star of space
I saw Satan sit alone.
Old and haggard was his face;
for his work was done and he
rested in Eternity.
And to him from out the sun
came his Father and his Friend
saying, now the work is done
enmity is at an end.
And he guided Satan to
Paradises that he knew.
Gabriel without a frown,
Uriel without a spear,
Raphael came singing down
welcoming their ancient peer;
and they seated him beside
One who had been crucified.
This poem by James Stephens sums up for me what is eternally possible for both you and me in the end, because who or what could resist the love of God forever?
Stanley Spencer’s image of “The Scorpion” is an allusion to the Evil one – Satan. It is he who condemns us before God, the one who says to God, ‘Look at Bayton ; everyone thinks he is a good man, prays, studies, preaches, teaches, helps people; but that is always on the ‘outside’ of life. Inwardly he is like Jesus, a glutton and a drunk. His friends are like him – sinners of the worst kind, especially those at Saint Paul’s church in Canterbury. It is the nature of Satan to destroy. Satan is also known as “Lucifer’ meaning “Light” and it is he who set himself up to replace God on the throne of Heaven, His desire was to become God and to overthrow goodness and replace it with darkness. He is a fool !.
On the other hand we read of Jesus who ” …thought not equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking upon himself the form of a servant; and being found in human form humbled himself……for this sake every knee should bow and every soul confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.
In the first century AD there was no such thing as ‘Judaism’ per se. There were many ‘isms’ just as today there are many ‘Christianities’. There was Pharisaism, Saducaism. The Essenes of the Dead Sea, the Herodians and many cults. The Pharisees believed in Resurrection and Angelology. They worshipped in synagogues. The Saducees were the aristocratic cult bearers of the Temple. They demanded worship in Jerusalem. They said there was no Resurrection and no Angelic world beyond this world. This world was all that is. One was expected to obey the 613 laws of the Pentateuch and one lived on after death only in the memory of ones descendants.
This theology abounds today, not only in Judaism but in Christianity and in the world of agnosticism and atheism.
One has only to look at the designation of many Melbourne Synagogues and the Notice boards that proclaim benefactions to realize the truth of this, that you only live beyond this life in the memory of others. How sad.
I remember once going to offer condolences to a Presbyterian Minister whose wife had died. He said to me –“Please do not worry. Please do not pray for her soul. She is gone. She lived a good life and that is all there is.” I remember saying to him, “No life after death ? No heaven, no meeting with Jesus. No eternal vision of Love ? No being immersed in the glory of God”, to which he replied, “ That theology belongs to the Mediaeval church”.
Or the story of the chap at the burial of his wife. His friend said to him, “Oh I am so sorry that your wife has died” to which he replied, “ Oh, don’t worry, I’ll soon find someone else!!”
The world is peopled with Saducees, people who live good lives but say there is nothing beyond this life.
Last Monday I showed my audience at U3A a fossil that is probably one of the most ancient of all evidence of a life 300 million years ago.
Stanley Spencer took the Book of the Revelation of St. John chapter 9 verses 33 following, when he spoke of the Fifth Angel - “Out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given the power of scorpions….and the agony they suffered was like the sting of scorpions….and of the thundering of many horses…they had tails and stings like scorpions…”
Saint John writes seven letters to the Seven Angels of the Seven Churches of Asia. This Image reveals Spencer’s scholarship of the New Testament. Remember his only primary school learning was in his own home.
Now, for First Class Honors in our weekly Homilies, can you name the Seven Angels?
You will of course name MICHAEL, GABRIEL, RAPHAEL and perhaps URIEL. That makes four. The other three? We can only describe them in poetry –
THE SEVENTH ANGEL
The seventh angel
is completely different
even his name is different.
He is not like Gabriel
pillar of the throne
Nor like Raphael
Nor even Azrael
engineer of the planets,
geometer of infinity
splendid exponent of theoretical physics.
is black and nervous
and has been fined many times
for illegal import of sinners.
Between the abyss
and the heavens
without a rest his feet go pit-a-pit.
His sense of dignity is non-existent
and they only keep him in the squad
out of consideration of the number seven
but he is not like the others
not like the hetman of the hosts
All scales and feathery plumes
Nor like Azrafael
interior decorator of the universe
warden of its luxurious vegetation,
his wings shimmering like two oak trees
Nor even like Dedrael
apologist and cabalist
…the angels complain
Why can’t you be splendid?
The Byzantine artists
when they paint all seven
just like the rest
because they feared they might lapse into heresy
if they were to portray him
just as he is
with his old halo tarnished.
The Bible is filled with references to ‘Angels’, the most prominent in the Old Testament being the Three Angels of the Lord who appeared to Abraham under a Tree in what is now the town of Nablus in the West Bank of Palestine to proclaim the birth of Isaac.
Jacob lying down to sleep with his head on a stone dreaming of the angels and archangels ascending and descending from earth to heaven.
Then we have the story of the three children in the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel. Then we have the Angel Gabriel who evangelized the Virgin Mary. The angels who sang “Gloria “ at the birth of the Savior. The angel who strengthened Jesus after his fasting in the Wilderness. The Angel who appeared to Zechariah to tell him of the birth of John the Baptist; Nahanael meditating on Jacob’s Ladder . And the Apocalypse – the book of the Revelation to John, riddled with images of angels – the seven angels of the seven churches and so on. All in the context of Prophecy.
Each one of us has a Guardian Angel, one who cares for us, looks after us and even gives us a parking Spot when we pray to her ! Jesus himself, when confronted by evil said, “….my Father could send ten legions of angels…” He also refers to the destiny of the dark angels….” In Jesus Prophetic utterances angels are prominent. They are a hierarchy- Cherubim – the Bright Red angels of the love of God. The cherubim – the Bright Blue angels of the Divine Energies of God. My dear late mother always said that my twin sister and I were like the Cherubim and Seraphim, because “They continually doth cry”. Thrones. Dominations. Archangels, Angels – we sing of them every Eucharist as we introduce the Holy, Holy, Holy of the Sanctus. We proclaim our belief in them, but do we acknowledge them in our daily prayers ? They are real and they live with Jesus in that parallel Universe we call “the Kingdom of Heaven”.
I have the memory of several occasions when I have been overcome by the presence of the holy angels. Once in particular. One Sunday night after Evensong at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill, I went to the chapel of the Angels at about 730pm. I had recently painted a frontal for the Chapel Altar there, depicting the hosts of Angels. I knelt down to pray and in a most marvelous vision I saw the host of heaven, Angels and Archangels.
I have no idea how long I prayed there, but I do know when I returned to the Vicarage it was well past midnight.
Every night I pray to my guardian Angel and on waking, (as I mentioned last week), I invoke the Prayer of the Holy Trinity. “I bind unto myself this day the strong name of the Trinity !” Amen .