September 1999: Homecoming
The entire service was based on Henri Nouwen's book about Rembrandt's painting 'The Return of the Prodigal'. We had obtained a set of slides showing details of the painting - hands, feet, faces - and created a station for each one, examining different aspects of the story.
the station for the slide of the prodigal son being welcomed by his father is here
this station had a second life as station 5 of the st. paul's cathedral labyrinth.
on the wall above this station is projected a part of the painting: the prodigal son being embraced by his father. on a table in front of it is an OS map. on the map is a map-reading compass, and four or five small magnets. beside the map is the book 'walking in circles' by richard long, open at the double-page spread 'kicking stones: a 203 mile northward walk in six days'
the compass points north
but the coloured magnets, like false norths,
can pull it astray.
play a little with the magnets
bring them close to the compass and see the effect.
the still small voice of true north is there all the time
but the false norths drown it out
if they get too close.
how then will we find our way home
across strange terrain?
what are the false norths in your life?
in addition there is this text:
focus on the figures of the father and the son.
remain in silence for a while.
try to imagine the scene of the encounter between father and son....
the younger son took all his father could give him and left.
he wanted to rule his own life, but stronger forces were pulling the strings. he wanted to be his own new creation, but stronger forces remade him in their own image.
both feast and famine took all he had - even his humanity. he found himself in a world where pigs were worth more than people, because pigs have economic value.
so he returned to his father to sell himself as a commodity.
but his father received him as a son.
notice his shaved head - symbol of loss of humanity. he has become an object to be used and discarded.
he wants to be a hired hand - a partial, conditional humanity that has to be continually earned and can be revoked.
the father receives him in the sonship of full humanity. being someone’s child does not have to be earned or deserved. the father will not allow him to be anything less than a son.
do you feel you have to earn god’s love?
if so, look at the painting and put yourself in the position of the younger son. feel the embrace of god’s accepting love.
we can all find ourselves among the characters in the painting. most of us have been more than one, perhaps at the same time. in our homecoming to god our father we confess our sins in order to restore our relationship with him.
we confess the sins of the younger son;
we confess that we take all you have to give while denying that you were ever our father; we confess that we hoped you were dead. we confess that we declared ourselves masters of our own destiny, free from the superstitious rules of humanity's childhood; and now find that we have only ourselves to blame for things that go wrong.
we confess that we prefer the identities we can buy, wear, and discard to the vulnerable robes of sonship and daughterhood. we confess that we paint our faces and neglect our souls.
we confess that we are willing victims of those who tell us who to be because it is in their financial interest to do so. we confess that we are in rags in the pigsty, trying to remember who we once thought we were.
we confess our emptiness; our inability to live on what the system gives us, or to be the machine that the system wants us to be;
we confess that we are to others the system that does not feed; we are to others the system that dehumanises. we confess that what we find unbearable when it is asked of us, is what we ask of others.
we confess the sins of the older son;
we confess that we do our duty while hiding our resentment, saying thankyou with our lips while saying "is that it?" in our thoughts. we confess that we insist on our rights rather than waiting for your gifts.
we confess that we judge the younger son harshly and pride ourselves on our superiority; forgetting that pride is the deadliest sin. we confess that we think it rather weak of you to welcome and forgive so readily; we wish you would live up to our moral standards.
we confess that we do in our hearts what the younger son did in a foreign country; our hearts have become a foreign country to you.
we ask to be forgiven and to be helped to live new lives, both those who went away and those who stayed but went away in their hearts. we want to return home to your embracing welcome, and celebrate with you the feast for a son who was dead and is alive again.