By Courtney Lott –
“I’m pretty sure there are Bernina 770 sewing machines in heaven. And I’ll be spending some time in the tabernacle with the seamstresses talking about banner making for the King!”
I had to laugh at this comment from my Sunday school teacher. One of the deaconesses of my church and a wonderful friend, this woman is not only a biology professor, but she also sews the banners that hang at the front of our sanctuary. The colors change along with the liturgical calendar, rotating between green, purple, white, and gold. With each new celebration, the artwork in our place of worship changes.
At the center of these beautiful colors are stitched symbols depicting different theological truths. Congregants can find descriptions of the meaning behind them at the back of our bulletin. Sometimes the images are reminiscent of a Celtic cross, while others are more straightforward, like a crown of thorns.
While these banners add a layer of beauty to our place of worship, they mean so much more than mere aesthetics. Though we live in a time and place wherein a great many congregants read, there is much to be said in telling the biblical story through art, in using talents like this to help communicate to those who learn differently.
There is a reason why God told his people to design the tabernacle of the Old Testament the way he did. It’s easy to get caught up in measurements most of us don’t understand, but the artistry described in the pages of Exodus is breath-taking. Curtains of finely twisted linen bursting with color form the walls, gold shines from the dishes and the lamp stand, intricate designs are carved into the wood, and angels spread their wings over the mercy seat.
Within this imagery, he also conveyed deep theological truths to his people. As much as they saw his joy in beauty in the temples designs, they also saw his holiness in the curtain separating them from the most holy place, his mercy in the sacrifices. In the craftsmanship and creativity, God encouraged his people to use their talents to image his character, his heart, his kingship.
The temple is a physical representation of the throne room of God, the true king of Israel. It was meant to remind the people to whom they were meant to bend the knee. No human king or prophet or priest could truly save them, only the Lord their God.
Created to Create. Though we no longer have a temple the same way Israel did, we are still called to reveal the redemption story through our art, both in our churches and in our daily lives. Take a moment to count the colors in a sunset, to differentiate between bird songs, or stand in awe of a clear starry night. Our God is an artist. The ultimate artist. If we are made in his image, then we are called to create as well.
Unfortunately, sometimes Christians get weird about art.
Whether it’s because of the commandment not to make images and worship them – or because we sanitize the authenticity out of artistic expression – our films, music, and the like are often cheesy at best, or low quality at worst. But as representatives of the God who created the universe, we ought to be producing art of the highest quality.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).
It is an honor, an act of worship, part of our witness, to reflect our creator. Like the servants with their talents in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25, we are to take the abilities God has given us and put them to work to the best of our ability. To shortchange it with laziness or inauthenticity is to bury it in the ground where it will never be seen.
Paint Brushes and Paints. The deaconess at my church who creates the banners does not do it alone. Instead, she works together with another woman who comes up with the designs. The first says that she could never dream up the images on her own, while the other could never bring them to life. These two women are a beautiful example of how the body of Christ ought to work together to advance the kingdom.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:21-22).
This is true not only for artists, but scientists, mathematicians, mechanics, lawyers, and writers alike.
Our heavenly father didn’t give us all the same gifts. His character is so wide and infinite that no one man or woman could represent him well on their own. Instead, he scatters the beautiful aspects of his personality across his creation, creating unique individuals to shine like different pieces of a mirror.
Separately, we are shards of glass, but together we form a reflective surface that reveals the one in whose image we were made. May we honor God with the talents he has given us, using the gifts to glorify the giver.
Courtney Lott is the editorial assistant at Good News.