Nestling amongst the musty smelling books, pamphlets, folders and the various oddities that old Meeting House libraries seem to attract, was a black and white print; stained by damp and coated in a thin layer of dust. Although not very old, the picture had been placed face down on the shelf and forgotten. This print shows the Quakers of popular imagination; a miserable looking lot, heads bowed in contemplation with their strict faith carved onto their features as if onto granite. For me this image encapsulates the uniqueness of Quaker Worship, for in amongst these dour worshippers stands the glowing figure of Christ and as his light emanates over the whole congregation, made all the brighter by the piety of the worshippers.
Jesus on the Tube – a favourite painting, by self-described “artist and soul midwife” Antonia Rolls
For me that idea of Christ, (or whatever words you use to describe the light) is not some separate, ethereal figure but is instead amongst us and alongside us as we worship. The ordinariness of this idea spoke to me; revealing what I see as the truth of meeting for Worship not a communion with a remote God but instead a quiet companionship with the spirit. The beauty of Meeting for Worship is in its ordinariness-where the mundane meets the divine. It is that which gives Meeting for worship its power.
That idea of the mundane meeting the divine (not mine, I am sad to say), was coined by the artist Antonia Rolls when discussing her picture Jesus on the Tube. There is something deeply familiar about this scene, one that any Londoner would recognise: the pinstriped businessman engrossed in his paper, the young woman absorbed in her own thoughts and the prim and proper old lady clutching her handbag and looking straight ahead, carefully avoiding eye contact. To Londoners this is the most mundane scene, life at its most ordinary. It is almost not worthy of attention and you could almost ask why anyone would bother to paint it at all. That is, except for one key detail; obvious to us looking at the picture but hidden from those people in it. Staring straight out from the center of the picture, like an icon torn from the walls of some Greek basilica, is the Risen Christ.
What I like about this image is how Christ isn’t separate from those he is sitting next to him. Jesus is sitting quietly, peacefully on the train with his arms crossed, quite unseen, in quiet companionship with those around him. ‘Jesus on the Tube’ presents an almost comical truth; that to anyone looking at the picture Christs presence is obvious, but those closest to him on the train are oblivious, absorbed only in themselves.
This picture brings to mind the story of the road to Emmaus (Luke 24 vs 13-34) in which two men are walking down the road in the days after Jesus’s body had gone missing from the tomb. After a while they were joined by a stranger, who walked with them. As it was late they invited the man to join them in their own home. However, it was only when the man broke the bread at supper that they recognised him as the Risen Christ.
For me this picture Jesus on the Tube is also a reminder that so absorbed are we with life that we can forget that God is amongst us and beside us. Yet if we take the time to look for that of God, not just in other people but in the ordinariness of our everyday lives, Christ will be revealed. We need only to take the time to look up every now and again and pay attention.
Antonia Rolls in her blog said when she first painted the image, she wondered if Jesus would simply sit on the tube for ever, or if one of the people would eventually look up and say “I know who you are!”