Landscape with a Coach (c. 1637)
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
public domain

Epiphany 6, Mark 1:40-45

Historical Description:   Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), a Dutchman born in Leiden, painted prolifically during the Dutch Golden Age.  He studied under the principal painter in Amsterdam, Pieter Lastman, who exposed him to the styles of naturalism, drama, and extreme tenebrism.  He first gained fame for his depictions of Biblical and historical scenes, but later received recognition by his prolific portrait painting. Rembrandt fell into financial ruin late in life.

Rembrandt began painting landscapes in the late 1630s, but incorporated dramatic themes instead of contemplative, tranquil settings.  Landscape paintings like Landscape with a Coach received less attention compared to Rembrandt’s evocative Biblical scenes, but capture a similar dynamic atmosphere.

Devotional Reflection:  When I first looked at Rembrandt’s painting Landscape with a Coach, the light drew my eyes to the city below.  I longed to venture down the shadowed hill from whence my view is cast and break forth into the beaming city streets, surely bursting with life.    My feet are set in a desolate place where clouds hover, shadows lengthen, travelers trudge along the path, and the grass scarcely recalls its shade of green. Out of the shadow, into the light.  That is where my eyes are drawn—down to the city of light.  But yet I remain standing in the dark with only a flicker of hope in my heart.

The leper in Mark’s account stands at the outskirts of a village in Galilee. He is outcast, sitting by himself, dejected, away from life itself.  An onlooker to what he may once have taken for granted but now has only a flicker of hope to return.  One who dwells in the shadow.  Alone.

But then comes Jesus.  I can picture the light far down the path moving along with Him as He comes up the hill.  Can it really be?  The Light enters into the darkness.  Hope begins to flicker within the leper’s breast—he runs to Jesus and calls out, “If You will, You can make me clean!”  And He does.  He reaches into the shadow and the leper is never the same.  But neither is Jesus.

You see, Rembrandt’s painting is a glimpse of both a before and an after.  First it offers the perspective of the leper whom society has cast out into the darkness.  Jesus heals him and now he can reenter the city of light.  But then our text records what happened to Jesus.  The man, though told not to tell anyone, could obviously not keep such a transformation to himself.  He tells everyone!  Consequently, “Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places….”  There you see Him, outcast, sitting by Himself, dejected, away from life itself.  One who dwells in the shadow.  Alone.

This is what happens when the Kingdom of Light breaks into the darkness.  The deaf hear, the blind see, the lepers are made clean.  The downcast are lifted up, the guilty are cleared, the lost are found.  The wounded are made whole.  The shamed receive dignity.  The slaves are set free.

But because He brings forth this light, Jesus finds Himself atop a hill cloaked in shadow, nailed to a cross.  His eyes are drawn down to the city below.  Dark clouds press in.  Even the grass scarcely recalls its shade of green.  His Light, His Life, goes out.

But the darkness did not overcome Him.  Instead the clouds peel away with the rising sun.  Christ’s resurrection proved that death’s power is but a shadow that will fully fade away when He returns in glory.  The Kingdom of Light, starting as a small flicker, continues to grow and break into the darkness of the world.  Wherever you stand, no matter how gloomy your view or how small your hope’s light, Christ approaches you and promises an exchange.  He’ll take your darkness.  He’ll give you a new life.  He’ll bring you into the City of Light.

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