Third Sunday of Easter

The Last Angel by Nicholas Roerich — Tempera on cardboard, 20 3/4 x 29 inches, 1912. Photo by the Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York.

April 23, 2023 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Acts 2:14a, 36-41 • Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 • 1 Peter 1:17-23 • Luke 24:13-35

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Image description: Dominating a vast landscape and sky in shades of vibrant red and orange is a large angel holding a spear and shield and standing on large rolling orange plumes of smoke which billow up behind the figure filling the sky. The landscape below is comprised of a city, brown and barren hills, purple mountains and a winding turquoise river. Throughout the landscape are open caverns from which erupt large red-orange flames of fire. Directly below the angel is an emerald green grassy hilltop dotted with red-orange flowers.

Peter: Reconsider your lives; change your direction. Participate in the ceremonial washing of baptism in the name of Jesus God’s Anointed, the Liberating King. Then your sins will be forgiven, and the gift of the Holy Spirit will be yours. Whoever made a place for his message in their hearts received the baptism; in fact, that day alone, about 3,000 people joined the disciples. — Acts 2:38,41

I love the Eternal; for not only does He hear my voice, my pleas for mercy, but He leaned down when I was in trouble and brought His ear close to me. So as long as I have breath, I will call on Him. Once I was wound in the wrappings of death; the terror of dying and the grave had a grip on me; I could not get away, for I was entombed in distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Eternal: “O Eternal One—I am begging You—save me!” — Psalm 116:1-4

Now that you have taken care to purify your souls through your submission to the truth, you can experience real love for each other. So love each other deeply from a [pure] heart. You have been reborn—not from seed that eventually dies but from seed that is eternal—through the word of God that lives and endures forever. — 1 Peter 1:22-23

We had been hoping that He was the One — you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises. Anyway, on top of all this, just this morning — the third day after the execution — some women in our group really shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning, but they didn’t see His body anywhere. Then they came back and told us they did see something — a vision of heavenly messengers — and these messengers said that Jesus was alive. — Luke 24:21-23

When they sit down at the table for dinner, He takes the bread in His hands, He gives thanks for it, and then He breaks it and hands it to them. At that instant, two things happen simultaneously: their eyes are suddenly opened so they recognize Him, and He instantly vanishes — just disappears before their eyes. Two Disciples (to each other): Amazing! Weren’t our hearts on fire within us while He was talking to us on the road? Didn’t you feel it all coming clear as He explained the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures? — Luke 24:30-32

I would venture to guess the scene depicted in this painting rises out of the prophesy found in the Book of Revelation. I could not locate an explanation for this beautiful painting by the Russian artist, Nicholas Roerich but he completed a number of artworks inspired by the icon tradition of Russia. We do not have a passage from Revelation in our texts this week, yet I have chosen this piece for its metaphoric potential.

I was drawn to the mentions of making a place for the message in one’s heart, hearts on fire and love from a pure heart along with the Peter’s preaching of gift of the Holy Spirit (who appeared as tongues of fire on Pentecost). When I began to search for an image that could represent these concepts, this one caught my curiosity and I began to explore whether Revelation’s vision of the angel throwing the censer of hot coals to the earth causing a commotion (Revelation 8) could not also be a symbolic image of the Holy Spirit coming upon large crowds of people the world over — in the wake of Christ’s resurrection, the earth is set ablaze with receiving hearts and the many prayers and praises of the people ascend like a billowing cloud of smoke.

The inclusion of something living and growing here also catches my attention — the greening hilltop below the angel on which bloom fiery red-orange flowers. I see it is a symbol of the new life we experience at the core of our being when our hearts are awakened.

Does this scene feel more like one of judgment and doom or one of renewal and life to you? Can it be both?

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?

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