How do works of art come about? Something prompts a writer or artist to go into creative mode: an encounter, an experience, a vision, even another work of art. And in our Western creative tradition, the life of Jesus has been the prompt for such an abundance of art: poems, novels, plays, sculptures, paintings, tapestries, church buildings.
It was the Ascension of Christ – yesterday’s celebration – which prompted the magnificent, huge, woven cloth hanging, the ‘dossal’, behind the altar at the East end of Christ Church. Why the Ascension? I don’t know; we have no record of the thinking of the artist, Vanessa Robertson, in 1986. But we do have a description of her work. This reads: ‘It portrays Christ ascending from dark forest greens and browns through a blue sky and red sunset, reaching for his crown in heaven.’
So: Christ ascending from the Forest. That idea contains a further thought: that the Christ now ascending might once have been here, a reminder of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’: ‘And did those feet in ancient time/Walk upon England’s mountains green?’ The answer, of course, to Blake’s question is really a simple ‘No.’ But, but…. Unless we can see the life and teaching of Jesus as somehow installed in our own time and place, it will be without meaning for us. As the great German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked in 1944, ‘Who is Christ, for us, today?’