Images of Christ

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Much earlier this year I was preparing a homily to use at the school. Often when I give a homily at the school it is accompanied by some pictures which are projected onto the screen to help illustrate whatever the message is that I’m speaking about. On this particular occasion I chose to use some cartoon type pictures. All went well and I think the pictures helped to tell the story for the students.
But after we had finished, I was talking to some of the younger students and one of them complained that they thought that the picture I had chosen didn’t look like Jesus. This then lead to another discussion about, what did Jesus actually look like?
This has been the subject of many discussions down the centuries and there have been many options put forward. I searched the internet with, “What did Jesus look like?” and I got 469,000,000+ results, so that wasn’t particularly helpful!
The consensus seems to be that our popular idea of what Jesus looked like has been largely shaped by the influence of artists and film makers. But what picture springs into your thoughts if asked the question, What did Jesus look like? Let’s just consider His facial features, what does that look like and where do you take your inspiration or reference from?
In our parish church of St Francis’, how many images of the face of Jesus can you think of?
Probably the ones that spring to mind will be the crucifix above the sanctuary, or the processional cross, perhaps it will be the Sacred Heart statue near the sacristy door, or the Divine Mercy painting near the organ. And let’s not forget our unique leather stitched Stations of the Cross that flow around the side walls of the church. And there are more! If we look closely each one is different, but we still know it is an image of Christ.
I’m also sure that if we were to look around our homes, we would find that any crucifixes that we have, will also have differences in the features of the image of Christ that they have on them. Just as in the church, you might have an Assisi style crucifix, you might have a Risen Triumphant Crucifix, or it might be like the traditional Christ dying on the Cross, similar to the one we use for veneration on Good Friday. (There’s a picture of this one on the Deacon Diaries (36) from 21st September).
Whichever version we prefer, the interesting thing is that everybody tends to recognise that the image is of Christ. This isn’t always because the figure, or face, is on a cross, but often it will be because of the context in which it is seen, in a church, in a painting, in a book, or in a film, all are relevant to what most people might refer as being in a ‘religious’ setting. Somewhere that you might expect to associate with Christ.
However, does it really matter what our image of the physical features of Christ is? It might be important for me to be able to concentrate when I’m in conversation with Christ to be able to picture who I am talking to, but does this affect the content of my relationship with Him?
There is also another problem that I find a bit confusing in this thought pattern though. If I have a fixed image of what Christ looks like, what is my reaction when I’m told that I should see Christ:
in the face of the poor,
in the face of the lonely,
in the face of the oppressed,
in the face of someone who is hurting,
In the face of my neighbour – every one of them.
But what for me is more challenging, is when I realise that I, and each one of us, is being called to be the face of Christ to those I meet. Being tasked with the mission to bring Christ to others and this world in which we live. Each of us is the physical face of the Church, and thus Christ through our lives.
So, let’s not worry about if we match the physical features of Christ. He isn’t concerned with what colour hair I have, what colour my eyes are, whether my nose is big, or if my eyebrows meet in the middle! We are all made in the image of God and as such variety is a good thing. The most important thing is how others can experience the love of Christ for them, through me.
We recognise those ‘Christ moments’ in our lives through actions, words, examples and situations. The ‘faces’ of others give us an opportunity to react as Christ would have reacted, the needs of others give us the chance to fulfil those needs as Christ would have. When others let us into their lives, at high and low moments, we are able to share an image of Christ with them.
Having a picture of Christ helps us to focus our attentions, it may allow us to centre our lives, and it acts as a great reminder, especially the crucifix, of the greatest love and sacrifice ever known. That is why these images are so important in our mind.
However, the image of Christ is so much more than a picture of physical features – the image of Christ is simply put, The Gospel in Action.
I need to ask myself – “When I look in a mirror who do I see?

Deacon Ian Black

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