When you’re packing for holidays – when we’re allowed them of course – what do you put in in addition to all the usual stuff like clothes and toiletries? A few books, perhaps, to read. Or an iPad? Maps and guidebooks.
One of the things I like to take is what is called a travelling icon. An icon is a particular kind of religious picture, portraying Jesus, or his mother Mary, or one of the saints of the church. And a travelling icon is two or three small icons attached to each other with hinges, so they can stood up, or be folded up so that it can be taken with you when you travel.
I have mine here with me this morning. It is a small, foldable, set of three icons showing Jesus in the centre, with his mother Mary on the left and John the Baptist on the right.
If you are into art in any way you may have immediately thought – ah, that’s a triptych. You might not – but don’t worry, I’m about to explain what a triptych is. A triptych is one piece of art that has been painted on three panels – a kind of three in one picture. Usually the picture in the centre is the main picture to which the eye is first drawn, and the pictures on either side are related to and add to the centre picture. And together, the three pictures add up to more than the sum of the whole.
And my tryptich, my travelling icon, shows Jesus with the two people who played a part in getting people ready his ministry on earth – his mother Mary who gave birth to him, and his cousin John who prepared the way of the Lord.
You may even have a triptych of your own at home in the form of one of those three in one photo frames.
The reason I’m talking about triptychs, is that our gospel reading today is a triptych. Three pictures, each separate yet each only giving a part of the whole picture. Taken together they give us a complete picture – a picture of what Jesus came to do, and therefore a picture of what Jesus expects us as his followers today to do.
And the title of each of our three pictures begins with a ‘P’. Which makes it easy to remember.
The first picture we see of Jesus’ ministry is a picture of Jesus the Pastor. Jesus providing pastoral care to those in need. We hear how having been to the synagogue on the sabbath day – that’s like going to church on a Sunday – he and his disciples go to Simon’s house. As soon as he enters the house he is told that Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. So he heals her. And then we hear how that evening as the sun is going down he heals lots of people who gather around the door of the house.
This first part of our triptych – think of it as the left-hand picture – is at the start of the reading and shows us the importance of the healing and caring ministry of the Church. We are called, like Jesus, to offer to one another – and to all those in need who turn to the Church – the healing and caring of Jesus, now offered to all through us. For we are his hands now.
First picture – the Church is there to provide mutual healing and caring, as well as healing and caring to others. A picture of pastoral care.
Our second picture – the right-hand picture if you will – comes at the end of the reading today. Jesus the Proclaimer.
In the middle of the reading we hear how Jesus has got up early and gone off by himself – we’ll find out why in a moment. And Simon and his companions go looking for Jesus. When they find him they tell him that everyone is searching for him. But Jesus’ response is not to go to them. He doesn’t go to those who are searching for him – they have already heard his message. His response to the disciples is that they must go on to neighbouring towns, so that he may proclaim the message there also.
He is telling them that the people where he is have already heard the message he is proclaiming – he must now go and tell people who haven’t heard, people who live in surrounding villages and towns. And this too is what Jesus expects the Church to do today, to tell people who don’t know him all about him.
So the second picture – the Church is there to tell those who have not heard the good news of Jesus, the message that Jesus came to bring of hope, of justice, of love and inclusion for all in the family of God. A picture of proclamation
So to our third picture. Think of this as the picture in the middle of the triptych. The picture which is essential for the whole of the triptych to make sense. And it is the event that takes place at the centre of our gospel reading. Jesus the man of Prayer. Jesus gets up while it is still dark, goes off to a deserted place, and prays.
Jesus needed time alone with God. He needed it to help him cope with the rest of his work. In today’s reading we hear how Jesus has been dealing with the crowds around the door coming for healing, and the pressure he felt to go on from town to town to proclaim his message. His time of prayer early in the morning is at one and the same time an opportunity to spend time with God following the busyness of one day, with the need to prepare for the busyness of the task that lies ahead.
Prayer, time with God, is at the centre of his ministry. And if Jesus felt the need to spend time in prayer with his Father in order to help him cope with the busyness of the rest of the day, how much more do we need to do the same. We too will find that spending time in prayer, being quiet and alone with God, will help us deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life.
And by prayer I do not mean Sunday worship. Jesus, remember, has just been to worship. He has attended the synagogue which we know was his normal custom. He has already been to his weekly worship. And he stillneeded to spend time alone and in prayer almost immediately after so that he could fulfil his ministry. If Jesus needed to dedicate time to prayer why do we think we don’t need to?
So, our central picture is prayer. Prayer which is essential to supporting the two pictures on either side – pastoral care and proclamation.
So there we have it – our triptych. Our triple picture. Remember, a triptych is one picture made out of three pictures – where each individual picture is different and yet together the three make a whole, and where the central image is what we are first drawn to.
Jesus, a person of prayer – and who prayed, spent time with God, so that he had the strength and support to then carry out his tasks of pastoring and proclaiming. This is what we sometimes call sharing the gospel through word and action. Word – that’s the proclaiming bit. And action – that’s the pastoring bit. And at the centre of it all our worship – that’s the prayer bit.
And that’s we are all called to do – to proclaim the gospel, to pastor those around us, and to undergird it all with prayer.