Sermon Ideas For Philippians 1:1-11 Part 3
The season of advent is a time of waiting, the faithful wait in anticipation of the great event of Christmas. It is like the "waiting" of the farmer, who having planted and tended his crops, anticipates the great event of the harvest. Or, like the artist, who having had an idea for a painting, sculpture, dance, or musical composition, prepares his/her studio and materials in preparation for the creative explosion that will result in a finished work of art. Following this analogy of the parallel "waiting" of the believer, farmer, and artist, we can consider the scriptural relationship between scriptural and artistic imaging, especially an imaging of the harvested fruits of the earth.
In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul considers the "fruits of faith." "The fruits of faith"--is this an oxymoron in translation? How can you have a vegetative product of an invisible, intangible, human experience? Is this simply, literal and poetic, thereby scriptural, license? A verbal metaphor? Or is there something "more" to such a translation of this phrase?
"The fruits of faith"--pretend for a moment that you are an artist (a composer, a poet, a dancer, a choreographer, a sculptor, a painter, what have you)--how would you even begin to create an image of "the fruits of faith?" Think about what they might look like, taste like, feel like, smell like, sound like. Would "the fruits of faith" have a sound? Would they sound (and commensurately look and act) like the "fruit of the loom" guys--that anthropomorphic apple, banana, orange, and cluster of grapes that has human appendages, faces, and voices? Or would "the fruits of faith" sound like the famed "snap-crackle-pop" of a familiar breakfast cereal? If fruit, especially "the fruits of faith," had a sound, a voice, how would a composer, musician, or singer capture it? Or are "the fruits of faith" a visual rather than a musical or gestural metaphor?
Seeing is a primary human modality, attested to even by the constant scriptural references to sight, to seeing, to the power of vision. In early Christian art, Jesus as the Christ was regularly referred to as the "illuminator--that is, the one who brings the light, the clarifier. In this same vein, he was also the great thaumaturge--a healer...of the blind, the lame, and the deaf. One notes that this early imaging of Jesus as the Christ relates directly to the analogies between the weaknesses of the human body and the pitfalls of faith, and simultaneously to a recognition of the fundamental relationship between bodiliness and faith for as he heals the body Jesus as the Christ is seen (or touched or heard), and thereby known, as the healer. This renewal, or re-awakening, of the human sensibilities with the body results in a unifying holistic experience similar to a spiritual incarnation, or to an aesthetic experience in which this same patterning of sensibility and bodily arousings leads to an opening to a higher state of consciousness, of being.
In the history of Christian art, fruit generally signified the natural cycle of birth, life, death, and resurrection, and corresponded to the cycle of the four seasons. Fruits, like flowers and vegetables, as the produce of the earth, contained the seeds of successive generations. On a generic level, fruit symbolized the blessings of the harvest, of fertility, and of earthly desires (thereby leading to the creation of new life). Traditionally, Christian artists included fruits as a purely decorative element in a work of art with the unspecific reading of "fruit as a sign of the natural order." However, specific fruits were depicted as an integral element of the theological message of the image; for example, the apple in Eve's hand or the serpent's mouth signified the Temptation and Fall of Humanity, while the apple in the hand of the Christ Child represented the salvation of humanity from sin and eternal damnation.
In our current "secular" century, does the image of natural produce, that is fruit, flowers, or vegetables, awaken a similar style of visual, bodily, and spiritual resonance as it did for the early or medieval Christian? If this image awakens a common human recognition of "tastes" for sustenance, consider for a moment what associations the phrase "the vegetables of faith" might arouse. Is there more than a taste or sustenance sensation between fruits and vegetables? In most cases, fruits are sweeter to the taste than vegetables, and are usually reserved for after the meal as a form of dessert--a sweet reward for cleaning one's plate. By analogy, then, can we suggest that "the fruits of faith" are a reward for the trials of faith, of that testing and suffering of human existence--that "the fruits of faith" leave a sweet aftertaste like that of milk and honey?
Such a bodily image (and response) was both common and natural to the Fathers of the Early Church, and to Christian artists and theologians into the Renaissance. Given their careful (and caring) meditations on the Incarnation, bodily images, references, and metaphors flowed appropriately into Christian art and spirituality. Thereby, the natural and symbolic inclusion of fruits into Christian art signified more than the simple meaning of the cycle of seasons or the promise of the Paradise Garden (pause for a moment--the Paradise Garden!). Concurrently, recognize the multiple scriptural references to the nurturing of the body by eating (e.g., the Marriage of Cana, Loaves and Fishes, the Last Supper, and the Supper at Emmaus), and the role of these images in the history of Christian art (even into the cinema, television, and multi-media of the present day arts). In the secular century's environmental and ecological concerns, can we find a renewed meaning for this early Christian metaphor of "the fruits of faith"? Consider for a moment how contemporary artists might image "the fruits of faith" given the terrors of our current ecological crises and the magic of modern technology.
Diane Apostolos-Cappadona Takoma Park, MD