“Behold I set before you an open door,” says the Risen Christ in Revelation 3:8. I was in the British Museum on Wednesday en route for an Education meeting at Church House, and took another look at this remarkable little ivory panel, probably made in Rome in the early years of the 5th century. It is one of a set of four, possibly made to adorn a casket, and together they are some of the earliest Christian art we have – the earlier centuries being very hesitant about both representational and public art.
This panel represents the Empty Tomb, with the two Maries and sleeping soldiers as we might expect. But what are they grouped around? It’s the tomb of Christ – but depicted as it was when the ivory was made, excavated and encased to form the “Aedicule” that is in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And if you look very carefully you will see the Raising of Lazarus carved on one of its doors. The tomb of course had been famously discovered by the Empress Helena in the preceding century, and was now a major tourist/pilgrim destination, and it appears in Western Art from this time more often than you might have thought.
Going in and coming out; being open to God in our inner selves, looking deeper; and being open to God in our outer lives, looking wider. It’s a perpetual dynamic, a sort of oscillation, in the Christian life. Go wide – and you’ll soon need to come back deep.Go deep, and you’ll soon feel the breath of God blowing you wide. Where are you on the journey?