Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22
It’s remarkable that our first lesson, from the Revelation to John, includes one of the most tender passages in the whole of the scriptures. The Book of Revelation, which is so full of nightmarish-like scenes depicting the cosmic battle between good and evil, includes a momentary truce, where we hear these very inviting words attributed to Jesus:
“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking;
if you hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”[i]
Where I first learned this passage from scripture was not with my ears but with my eyes: from the painting of William Holman Hunt entitled “The Light of the World.”[ii] You, too, may have been a child when you first saw a reproduction. The original 1850’s painting hangs in the chapel of Keble College at Oxford University. William Holman Hunt produced a later version in 1900, which toured the world and now has its home at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Since that world tour, a century ago, this painting has been reproduced innumerable times in Sunday School papers, in illustrative Bibles, and in devotional literature the world o’er. The painting has also been a source of inspiration for many poets on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Alfred Lord Tennyson.[iii]
Here we see the full portrait of a patient Christ, standing outside. William Holman Hunt, in describing the painting, said that the figure of Christ was “to be seen only by the light of the star in distant dawn behind [him], and from some moonlight in front [of him], with most of the light ‘to guide us in dark places’ coming from the lantern.” In making it a night scene, lit mainly by this lantern carried by Christ, Hunt said he “had followed a metaphorical explanation in the Psalms, ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unon my path,’ and also by the allusions made by St. Paul to the sleeping soul: ‘The night is far spent, the day is at hand.’”[iv]
In this painting, we see Christ’s face silhouetted by this lantern which he carries, and he knocks at the door of a home. It’s quite an interesting door. In the full-size painting, if you were to look very carefully, you would see that the door has not been used for a long time. Thistles and weeds have grown up blocking the entryway, and the door hinges have rusted. But even more intriguing is the door handle. It’s not there. Or, at least, it’s not on the outside of the door. The handle is, obviously, on the inside and only on the inside of the door. Jesus, like a respectful caller, knocks and waits to be invited in:
“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking;
if you hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”
I would like to reflect with you on these words and on this painting, something about the dwelling place in which you live… I’m speaking metaphorically of your own person as the dwelling place. It’s actually a dwelling place of God. You, uniquely you, are a house of God.[v]
- What is the house like?
- What about the upkeep of the house?
- What about the company you keep?
- What about the rooms you use, and about what you hide away so that others can’t see. (Maybe so that you can’t see.)
- What’s happening in your house?
- And, back to the painting, what about the light: the lantern carried by Jesus, the star, the coming dawn? How does the metaphor of light speak to you in what may be a dreary November in your soul?
We believe that in our baptism, Jesus enters our life, that Jesus comes to live within us. Jesus enters the house in which we live at the entryway. For some of us, our baptism was at infancy when we had little-to-no conscious understanding of our needs and desires, a small and simple house. Baptism simply happened to us. For others of us – and I am in this other category – we were baptized as adults. Baptism was something we chose, and in doing so, accepted our need for Jesus Christ to be the master of the house, to maintain us, to save us. We knew we needed saving or salvaging… because the upkeep of our house had become unmanageable. In any event, whether baptism were a conscious choice or otherwise, Jesus came to abide in us. Jesus was at home in us.
What has happened to your house since then? This is what I’ll guess is true for you. The structure of your house – your dwelling place, your being – has changed. Over the years, there has been the remodeling of your house, maybe the tearing down of walls; perhaps major structural changes have been required. (I’m speaking symbolically.) These changes in the house of your soul have come because you are now older. People whom you love have died, and perhaps a part of you with them. The church, our own country, and the world have changed. Structural changes have come to your house through marriage, divorce, disease, and despair – if not in your ownlife, then in the lives of those whom you carry in your heart, that is, those who have a place in your house. Surgery. Job changes. Retirement. Your spouse, or your partner, or your parents, living or dead, and how you’re dealing with that. Addictions. Children arriving, changing, departing. Maybe you are even living in a new house, and by choice. Or not.
All of these things, these relationships, these experiences, have a place in your house. And your house has changed to accommodate them. Rooms added. Rooms barricaded. Closets for public view; some for private. Settings where someone or something has died in your life. What’s in the closets? What’s in basement? What are you hiding under your bed? That is the house of your soul.
On the one hand, your house may appear to be quite an orderly, modest dwelling on the outside, but I suspect there’s a lot more going on in the inside than meets the eye. Or maybe you appear to live in a mansion but, if the truth be known, the rooms are actually quite empty. The curtains are not kept closed by accident. There’s a lot of dark rooms, maybe even a locked room.
So what is the shape of your house? Is it a house of light and life and love? Jesus is knocking on your door. I don’t mean he’s knocking on the outside door. At your baptism, Jesus was invited in. But now what? Is he still at the entryway? Is he still where you left him a long time ago? Maybe he’s given only the regular access to just certain rooms in your house. (And by certain rooms, I mean your relationship to Jesus may be in only certain areas of your life, and in certain ways, and for some particular reasons.) Jesus is knocking at the inner doors of your life because he wants in on it all.
- It’s not much of relationship with Jesus if, every time you hear him knocking you think, “Oh, there’s the bill collector at the door, come knocking, demanding his due.
- It’s not much of a relationship if you see Jesus only as the plumber whom you’re always calling to come to fix something that’s clogged, or Jesus as the paramedic who only deals with emergencies.
- Maybe you’re prone to call on Jesus, because he runs something of a home shopping service for you. –You’re always praying for this or that… You only answer the door if you’re waiting for a certain delivery.
- Maybe you’ve related to Jesus like a formal guest for whom you’ve had to get all spruced up and who, when he makes a call on you, you only let see the living room.
The truth is that Jesus wants in on it all. That is, Jesus wants in on all your rooms, in all your life. What about all those other rooms that you don’t normally let him see (that maybe you don’t let yourself see?) Those other rooms are always going to see a little empty, wanting for love, and purpose, and light until Jesus is welcomed.
I encourage you to take this image of the house on which Jesus calls – it’s your house, your soul – to ponder and pray on your welcome to Jesus. You know the architecture of your soul. You name the rooms, and you speak the welcome. Or, if you find you can’t bring yourself to welcome Jesus into some rooms, why is that? Let your fear or your resistance to welcome Jesus be your prayer. Even if there are certain rooms in your soul that you feel are out of bounds to Jesus, tell him. Tell him why… and then keep your ears open. I’m sure you will hear from Jesus something like: “But I want in on it all, my love. I want to come in and eat with you… in your kitchen.”
[ii]William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) was born in London, the son of a warehouse manager. He worked as an office clerk before being accepted at the Royal Academy Schools in 1844. He became a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and his artistic career soared.
[iii]In Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” (1889), the image of the star shinning as the bell, showing him the way to death, is strongly linked to Hunt’s “The Light of the World.” See the British poet John L. Tupper’s, “The Light of the World” (1855),Tupper being a close friend of Hunt. See also “House of Changes” by contemporary poet, Jeni Couzyn.
[iv]Psalm 119:105 and Romans 13:12.
[v]1 Corinthians 3:16.
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