Skull with Candle (Schädel mit Kerze),
Painted by Gerhard Richter (born 1932),
Painted in 1983
Oil on canvas
© Alamy / Neues Museum, Nürnberg
No one lights a lamp to cover it
Jesus said to the crowds:
‘No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or to put it under a bed. No, he puts it on a lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in. For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, nothing secret but it will be known and brought to light. So take care how you hear; for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.’
Reflection on the painting
Jesus so often uses images from daily life to express some aspect of our relationship with God. In today’s reading he observes that when people light an oil lamp, they put it in a place where the light from the lamp can help people to navigate, to dispel darkness. There would be no point at all in lighting such a lamp and then hiding it away and depriving others of its light.
So it goes with our Christian discipleship. There can’t be any anonymous discipleship. We are called to radiate (like light) our Christian discipleship of to our friends and community, and not keep our faith secret. William Barclay (Scottish author, radio, TV presenter and Church of Scotland Minister) worded it really well: ‘Secret discipleship is a contradiction in terms, for either the secrecy kills the discipleship or the discipleship kills the secrecy.’
I think we are all tempted to hide our light, to remain anonymous, to privatise our faith, to be silent… Whilst of course it is a shame not to shine our light in today’s society, we also run the danger that light hidden under a bowl would slowly start to become dim, to fade,… with the risk of ultimately going out… like a candle flame that dies.
Our painting is by Gerhard Richter, one of the most important 20th- century artists. Born in 1932, he had an illustrious career painting image such as this Skull with Candle in 1983. It is ultimately a reflection on life and death. The candle, symbolising life, is burning, yet it will die out one day. In fact the dialogue of life and death is also reflected in the dialogue of the photo-realistically rendered skull and candle, against the abstract background. It is a modern memento mori painting. In 1995, the artist marked the 50th anniversary of the allied bombings of his hometown of Dresden during the Second World War. His solitary candle (a variation on the current painting) was reproduced on a monumental scale and placed overlooking the River Elbe as a symbol of rejuvenation and hope.
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