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Picture Study at Church

detail on Cheney's dress for Sunday
Recently, it was our family's turn to teach Family Sunday School.  We were to lead a picture study of Rembrandt's Raising of the Cross.  While some of the families would be familiar with picture study, for many this would be their first encounter.  I was looking forward to it!

Our class had previously finished The Passion of Christ - Fifty Reason Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper.  Despite some minor issues, it turned out to be a great read and spurred rich discussions at church and home.  Best of all, I think that if my children or I were now asked why Christ came to die, we would need to invite the person over for a long discussion of more than fifty reasons!

The week just prior to the picture study, we did a modern hymn study of How Deep the Father's Love For Us.  So, we encountered the Passion through the Word, through the written word (Piper's book), through music (hymn study) and now, through painting.

I have this lovely book, Great Art and Children's Worship - a handy resource.  While I wouldn't use all of her suggestions (like the leading questions), it has much to offer.  In school, picture study has a slightly different purpose and is conducted differently.  With this group, the purpose had a specific focus.  I read this quote to help explain why we might do this in FSS.

There is a very close relationship between appreciating beauty and worshiping.  In fact, it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.  As long as appreciation of beauty is not substituted  for worship, we need not worry, for beauty will enhance and add to the worship.  The two experiences need not be separated.

Surely those who have seen the woods afire with autumnal glory understand this.  They know a scene like that lifts the soul to worship the Maker of such a world.  In the field of the arts they know that the great and mighty music of Bach stirs them in a manner closely akin to worship.  They are also moved by noble works created with brush and chisel, which are the expression of the artist's inner feelings about a scene or an idea.  These works of art - great painting, sculpture, carvings - make us feel as worshipful as music or natural beauty does. - Great Art and Children's Worship, p. 12
We began by singing the hymn. Then I briefly introduced the painting. I explained what we would be doing - studying and taking in the painting and then turning it over and narrating what we saw. Everyone was so quiet while they were looking!  When it was time to describe what each saw, almost every detail was mentioned.  They even picked up that the man at the foot of the cross was Rembrandt himself.

I finished with these words from How Should We Then Live (p. 98)  by Francis Schaeffer.  "A man in a blue painter's beret raises Christ upon the cross.  That man is Rembrandt himself - a self-portrait.  He thus stated for all the world to see that his sins had sent Christ to the cross...Rembrandt's biblical base enabled him to excel in painting people with psychological depth.  Man was great, but man was also cruel and broken, for he had revolted against God.  Rembrandt's painting was thus lofty, yet down to earth."

They left with some new ideas, I think.  It blessed me to see them clutching their prints as they left for the service.

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