Hunt:Jesus, the Light of the World

Jesus: Light and Waiting

“I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

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Nestled away in the side chapel of Keble College, Oxford is this haunting painting, “The Light of the World”, by Holman Hunt. I stumbled upon on an adventure walk at Oxford one summer when we spent two weeks at nearby Wadham College. I was mesmerized by it and sat and visited it almost every afternoon. Hunt painted it in 1854 and sold to Thomas Combe who on his death willed it to Keble College. When Hunt heard that Keble was charging admission to see it almost fifty years later, he painted another picture four times larger with the understanding that it would be considered a “sermon in a frame.” The much larger work went on an international tour of evangelism where hundreds did indeed become believers.

When I found out that this larger version was donated to St. Paul’s Cathedral, I knew we needed to go back to London to see it behind the altar in the North Transept, Middlesex Chapel. This version is just as haunting, but it is much harder to meditate on the painting with the crowds in that larger setting. I was almost always alone at the chapel at Keble.

This is just a reminder of how art, even one painting can make such a difference in the world.  The figure of Christ and his searching eyes stands with a lantern on the other side of a door that is overgrown with dead weeds with rotten fruit on the ground. This speaks volumes more about our relationship with Christ than most theological writings. Christ has been there for some time. No matter where we stand or sit in relationship to the painting, Christ’s eyes are looking directly at us.  The door opens from the inside. Christ is not banging on the door but persistently and gently knocking.  I give copies of this image to spiritual friends especially when they are feeling God’s absence. God is there waiting.