I can still remember the sense of awe the first time we saw Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ in St Peter’s in Rome. This poignant, life size sculpture portrays Mary cradling the body of Christ, after He has been crucified and taken down from the cross. The genius of the artist is underlined when we realize Michelangelo did this work while still in his twenties!
My most recent brush with ‘greatness’ was on holiday in Geneva, Switzerland. There we worshipped in an English-speaking Church of Scotland service, which was held in ‘ l’Auditoire de Calvin’, a building once central to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Calvin and Knox preached here in the 16th century. Their statues stand at ‘the Reformation Wall’ in a nearby park.
These men were part not just of a spiritual revival of biblical Christianity, they helped establish foundational principles such as education, justice and democracy, on which much of modern society is built.
And for those of us brought up in a Presbyterian tradition, these men were our forefathers in faith and practice. So yes, there was a sense of being close to something great and profound.
A touching bedrock. A sort of home-coming.
Especially when we sang one of the hymns to the Irish tune of ‘Be Thou My Vision’, one of the pieces sung at my ordination as a minister almost 25 years ago!
On the wall of the Auditoire some of Calvin’s inspirational principles are represented. Along with Reformation fundamentals such as ‘Grace alone’, ‘Faith alone’ and ‘Scripture alone’, I was interested to read these:
‘Fight for solidarity between all people.’
‘Invent paths of reconciliation.’
John Calvin was not just a formidable theologian whose ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ remain a classic textbook. He was a pastor, caring for people, desiring everyone’s highest good.
I’m reminded of some words of the Apostle Paul, another great theologian/pastor, who urged his 1st century readers to strive for a godly balance of truth, righteousness and the ‘readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.’ (Ephesians 6 v 14 and 15)
Most of us may never see our work in a gallery or museum, or have our statue in the park, but we can all move a little closer to greatness every day, when we pray God’s will for our lives in Jesus’ name, and depend on the Holy Spirit to help us practice the teaching of Scripture.
Trusting in God’s grace for salvation. Seeking to become like Jesus in holy living. Working to build a worldwide community of peace and love.
All, as it says on the wall of Calvin’s Chapel,
‘to the glory of God.’
Amen to that.