The Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an interfaith organization dedicated to bringing the community together to end homelessness, one life at a time.
Over 20 years ago, a volunteer at UMC noticed clients, called neighbors, standing in line outside for lunch. She saw boredom on their faces. As an artist, she wondered, if given the opportunity, would the neighbors choose to spend hours creating art rather than waiting hours in line for soup. UMC approved her art program idea. In the initial stages, she began with acrylic paints used on donated plywood from contractors.
The neighbors gravitated toward the art program. After a year, they staged a fall art show. The organization split proceeds from the sold artwork equally between supplies for the art program and income for the artists.
One morning, I served with a mission group at UMC. The organization had converted Charlotte’s old train depot into an art studio. Volunteers and neighbors were busy working together preparing for the weekend’s art show. The artists had lined up large and small pieces of art along the walls outside and inside the depot. It is interesting how the lines transformed over the past year from people lining up for soup to artwork for sale lining the walls.
My eyes focused on a large black and white painting entitled “Thorns of Jesus.” The donated textured plywood surpassed any purchased smooth canvas board in bringing out the suffering love of Christ. Running my hand across the rough surface of the painting gave voice to the torture Jesus endured in his death on the cross.
The painting’s artist was a neighbor. Later, after the art show, I learned he became a local movie theater manager, reunited with his estranged wife and continued utilizing his artistic talent.
While viewing the various artwork with the mission group, I shared with one of the gentlemen my fascination with the painting of Jesus. After completing our mission service at UMC, our group loaded into the front of the van, and the gentleman loaded the painting of Jesus into the back. He said he could not leave Jesus behind.
For 15 years, the “Thorns of Jesus” has hung in my office. My desk and chair have always faced the painting. Whenever I am weary, I focus on a Savior who never gives up. Whenever I need mercy, I focus on the blood of Christ, which represents the new covenant shed for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever I am searching for a thought to preach, teach, or pray, I focus on Jesus to guide me in the paths of righteousness and in the way of love.
Pay attention to the position of the desk in your office or the couch in your living room. Notice the objects that are in your line of sight. Items that enhance your faith may be hanging on the wall behind you or lying on the bottom of a bookshelf out of sight. Adjust the spaces where you live and work to enhance your faith every day.
Since the Middle Ages, Christians have reflected upon the last sayings of Jesus on the cross gathered from the gospels. Many scholars view these words as Jesus’s final lesson or sermon. In his book, “The Hope of Glory,” Jon Meacham writes, “Jesus cried out to God; his followers heard the cries; what the audience could not know then was that the Jesus of history was about to become the Christ of faith, an intersection of the visible and the invisible that would alter how innumerable souls understand reality.”
As Holy Week begins this Sunday, focus on the seven last words of Jesus from the cross.
The First Word, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
The Second Word, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
The Third Word, “Woman, behold thy son!” “Behold thy mother!” John 19:25b-26a
The Fourth Word, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
The Fifth Word, “I thirst.” John 19:28b
The Sixth Word, “It is finished.” John 19:30
The Seventh Word, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46
Write these last words of Christ on seven sheets of paper or create seven pieces of art. Starting on Palm Sunday, center one of these words or works of art in front of you at work or at home and replace it each day with a new word or piece of art. May the last words of Jesus from the cross teach you new truths. Let the artwork shine the light of Christ in the darkness. Enhance your faith during Holy Week by focusing on a love that will never let you go.
The Rev. April Cranford, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waynesboro, is a columnist for The News Virginian. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The News Virginian.