This year during Lent we are using the space before the altar to illustrate symbolically our journey with Jesus from the desert to Jerusalem. We use as a basis the symbol of sackcloth, a traditional sign of repentance. Hessian fabric, together with stones, forms the basis of a tableau representing the desert; each Sunday we add to this display a further symbol related to the readings of the day.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead: “The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’” To illustrate this week’s Gospel we add a gauze bandage to the Lenten tableau in front of the altar. In this way we continue our symbolic journey with Jesus from the desert to Jerusalem.
In front of the lectern we have a hessian lectern fall on which we have a representation of “The Way of Life”. Along its many twists and turns Christ travels with us from darkness to the light of the cross. Each week we add to the path a shell, the universal symbol of pilgrimage, to remind us that Lent is a journey with Jesus from the desert to Jerusalem; as we walk with Jesus on our Lenten pilgrimage we need to pack light: to set aside distractions and things that hold us back, and to focus on what really matters.
There are five symbols already on the tableau:
Ash Wednesday: the embers and ashes of a fire. As well as representing the ashes it reminds us of a campfire such as would be left behind by someone who had stopped for a while on a journey.
Week 1: a pile of stones. This reminds us of Jesus’ temptation in the desert: “… the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.'” It also reminds us of the cairns set up to guide travellers on mountain paths.
Week 2: the Gospel reading was the Transfiguration: “There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light.” To represent this we added to the Lenten tableau for Sunday a bright white cloth. Later this cloth was replaced by a cloth of dull white, to symbolise the fact that the revelation lasted only a short time.
Week 3: the Gospel reading told of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: “…anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again…”. We added to the Lenten tableau a water jug; the blue and purple cloth cascading from the jug symbolises living water and the impending Passion.
Week 4: in this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus healed a blind man; he spoke of the contrast between day and night and between blindness and sight: “As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world.” To symbolise this we added to the Lenten tableau a lantern, to represent Jesus, the Light of the World.
The Way of Life
The design of the lectern fall is based on a massive cast-aluminium sculpture entitled “The Way of Life” by Jonathan Clarke on the wall of Ely Cathedral. You can read more about it here: http://jonathanclarke.co.uk/commissions/ely-cathedral/