Sermon Ideas For Zephaniah 3:14-20 Part 3
The vision presented in the reading from Zephaniah is clearly eschatological; it proclaims the coming of the Lord and a new Golden Age. In many ways, this vision is shared by numerous utopian thinkers and is reflected in the work of city planners as well as artists. Also, there is an underlying tone of joy in the passage which can be evoked without representative images.
While taking his literary inspiration from Isaiah rather than Zephaniah, Edward Hicks has captured the imagery of the former as well as the meaning of the later in his multiple renditions of "The Peaceable Kingdom." About 40 of the estimated 80 paintings he did on this theme have survived. They share the same basic icnography: A gathering of Quakers led by William Penn with American Indians in one portion of the work and a child or children in the company of various wild and domesticated animals--e.g., lion and lamb--in another section. The imagery and meaning have to do with a transformed earthly reality. In many of the paintings, the Quakers and Indians hold a serpentine banner which reads, "Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, peace on earth and good will to men." Hicks clearly follows traditional Christian interpretive models which read these passages as foretelling the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah.
Paolo Soleri has a similar vision, but the particulars are quite different. His is a vision of a reunification of creation, a "gathering together" in ecologically sound environments which he calls arcologies. Soleri refers to this new city as a city of God, wherein matter and spirit cooperate in the transformation of humanity. The designs used in these constructions are taken from naturally occurring forms. Soleri's vision of transformation suggests that humanity has the power, physical and spiritual, to bring about the necessary changes. Arcosanti, just such a city, is under construction in the Arizona desert.
The Russian artist and theoretician Wassily Kandinsky sought to communicate the most basic of meanings in his art and concluded that non-objective or non-iconic art was the proper approach. In his Fugue, he presents just such a vision to share with us. It is a painting of conflict and approaching resolution, and because he understood the conflict to be cosmic in scale, so, too, is the resolution. As Valerie Fletcher writes of this painting, Kandinsky thought that "sharp conflicts of symbolically colored organic forms could express the apocalyptic struggle between cosmic forces of good and evil, material and spiritual, self and others."1 Not tied to any specific narrative, Kandinsky sought to present the one narrative which is shared by all humanity in its spiritual unity.
In the Boston Public Library is a series of murals titled The Triumph of Religion. A Mural Celebrating Certain Stages of Jewish and Christian Religious History. The artist is better known for his portraiture, but John Singer Sargent chose the subject matter and the title for what John Dillenberger has called "...the most comprehensive religious painting scheme in the late nineteenth century..."2 On the east wall near the south end of the third floor gallery is found a lunette panel, The Messianic Age. In the center of the panel is a triad of figures. Adult male and adult female, fully clothed, kneel as they present a nude, preadolescent male who steps forward from between them. The child's left hand holds the right hand of the woman, and his right hand, the left of the man. On either side is a pair of nude males who open massive doors which would have blocked the child's entrance toward the viewers. In the left-center foreground a dog plays with a lamb. Creating an arched border is magnificent foliage which abounds with various fruits; and intertwined in it is a fabric streamer which falls from the foliage behind the child's head in front of the kneeling man and ends at his knees.
This is a vision of the fulfillment which Zephaniah presents. Paradise is once again available to humanity. The great gates, once closed behind Adam and Eve, blocking our entrance into Eden, are now opened by the arrival of an innocent child, "God in our midst." Mary/Eve and Joseph/Adam make the presentation, as "I restore your fortunes before your eyes," says the Lord.
Material on Hicks and reproductions of his Peaceable Kingdom can be found in The Hand and the Spirit: Religious Art in America, 1700-1900, a catalog accompanying an exhibit of the same name, prepared by Jane Dillenberger and Joshua Taylor, as well as John Dillenberger's revised edition of The Visual Arts in America from the Colonial Period to the Present (New York: Crossroad, 1988). Copies of the exhibition catalog are available from The Sharing Company, Austin, Texas. Soleri's work is seen in drawings and photographs in the exhibition catalog, Dreams and Nightmares: Utopian Visions in Modern Art, by Valerie J. Fletcher (Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983) and Perceptions of the Spirit in Twentieth Century Art, by Jane and John Dillenberger (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1977). Kandinsky's Fugue can be seen in Dreams and Nightmares. An important selection of a longer work of the same title, "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" by Kandinsky is found in Art, Creativity and the Sacred: An Anthology in Religion and Art, edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona (New York: Crossroad, 1984). A reproduction of Sargent's The Messianic Age is found in Dillenberger's The Visual Arts in America.
1. Valerie J. Fletcher, Dreams and Nightmares: Utopian Visions in Modern Art (Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983), p. 68. 2. John Dillenberger, The Visual Arts in America from the Colonial Period to the Present (New York: Crossroad, 1988), p. 152.