The combination of small children and difficult bible stories is one of the more challenging aspects a Minister faces. On more than one occasion I have launched in to a great Bible story, only to falter half way through, suddenly hearing how it sounds to 21st century ears.
'And God sent his final plague on the Egyptians, which is where we get the Passover, when the angel of death passed over and all the first born little baby boys died...'
'And it wasn't just Pilate who handed Jesus over; the Chief priests, the leaders of the Jewish faith, also wanted him dead...'
'And Jesus went into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil, errr...however you wish to imagine him...'
'What did you learn in school today?'
'The lady from the church came in and told us all about the Devil. I'm scared Mummy...will the devil visit my bedroom tonight...?'
'And on Ash Wednesday she put ash on our heads and told us not to sin and we're all going to die...'
However you cut it, the Christian story pulls no punches. And Lent is not the easiest season to inhabit. In preparing for this Sunday I toyed with the idea of visual aids for children, to illustrate the three temptations of Jesus, but dark figures in red cloaks, or worse, someone's modern idea of evil (which is always scarier) did not seem such a good idea.
Then I remembered Stanley Spencer's Christ in the Wilderness: The Scorpion (see above). It is one of five paintings exploring Christ and the idea of
wilderness, and was completed the year World War 2 broke out. I had always imagined the scorpion was the artist's impression of the Evil One but can't find any references to this interpretation, with most writers taking the creature at face value.
But imagine the scorpion is in fact a depiction of evil and it opens up some interesting thoughts. Christ holds it in his hand. His expression is inscrutable. He could perhaps extinguish it with one blow but he appears to allow it to do its thing. Its sting is dangerous but not overwhelming. It is feared by most and must be treated seriously, but it is seen in the context of something much greater.
Meanwhile we'll make do with a basket of pebbles and loaves on Sunday (have you ever noticed how alike they look?) and leave depictions of dark temptation to the imagination of the film makers.