Vincent Van Gogh

By: jdcharles63
Date: 10/03/2019

The wonderful news we celebrate here at the Lord’s table, is that Jesus is our Saviour. Yet that news is so often misunderstood or ignored.

Most of you will know the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, from the late 19th century; his most famous work is sunflowers.  Vincent was a favourite of the art establishment and of trendy people I’ve known, because they thought he had rejected Christianity.  That myth was deliberately maintained.  Thirty years ago, his many paintings of bible stories in the Van Gogh museum were all hidden in the basement, away from public view.

 That has now changed.  In a new film I recently saw about him, a curator from that museum acknowledged that Vincent’s paintings were all about his strong Christian faith.

Vincent wanted to be a minister like his father.  He studied theology, and served as a missionary to coal miners.  Many miners and their families were sick and starving, without adequate food, water or clothing; and a mining explosion had left many injured.  Vincent responded with God’s sacrificial love.  He gave away everything he owned, including most of his clothing; he ripped up his bed sheets for bandages, and slept on straw on the ground.  This gained the respect of the miners, and some were converted.

 But the supervising church committee sacked him, for excessive zeal, and because he did not dress or preach in the approved style.  So, he and the reformed church parted ways, but he continued to study the Bible, and he turned to painting as a way of telling people about God.

His approach to art was similar to established religion.  Art teaching at that time had produced a dull and uninspiring, formula style of painting, with a restricted range of subjects.  Impressionist painters like Monet had produced more lively paintings.  Vincent took the Impressionist style to an entirely new level, as he filled it with meaning and bold colour.

 Although he did many paintings of bible stories, he mostly painted bible themes set in the everyday life of our own time.  He tried to show the presence of God amongst ordinary people whose life is a hard struggle, and who in simple piety look to the eternity beyond this earthly life.  His favourite theme was of Christ as the suffering servant from Isaiah, to show God’s presence amongst the poor and humble.  He presented Jesus as our Redeemer, who can comfort and strengthen people whose life is hard – because he is the man of sorrows who knows our pain.

 Vincent used light from the sun, the stars or a lamp, as a symbol of God’s love and grace in the gospel.  The warm glow of that light fills the dismal settings of peoples’ lives with vibrant colour, unity and hope.

 His most famous paintings are of sunflowers, but they are not for decoration, they represent you and me.  Vincent found broken sunflowers abandoned in a street gutter. He took them home and his painting shows how they were transformed through love into something beautiful, just as Christ has done for us.

 As we gather at our Lord’s Table, let us take Vincent’s message to heart.

That Jesus is our redeemer: on the cross he suffered death for our sin, to save us from death, and he was raised from the grave in victory over sin and death.

That changes everything in our lives.  For we, who were lost to sin, like those cast-off sunflowers, have been saved by Jesus, and are being transformed into his beautiful new creation.  

No matter what our struggle in life, or how dark and dismal things may seem, Jesus has already suffered our pain.  He has walked our path to prepare the way before us, to a new and real life in communion with God, a life that will never end.


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