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MENDELSSOHN AND REMBRANDT: ARTISTS IN CHRIST

This past Tuesday we noted the 200th anniversary of the birth of the composer Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was born into a family with deep spiritual roots. His grandfather Moses Mendelssohn was a rabbi and a philosopher. But Felix’s parents, evidently for reasons of social standing, took Felix and their other children to a Christian church to get them baptized. They wanted their children to avoid the anti-semitism of 19th Century Germany.

But for young Felix, this was not just a social statement. This became real. This became authentic. This young man came to know Christ, and what creativity resulted! The Reformation Symphony built on the hymn, "A Mighty Fortress." The oratorios "Elijah" and "St. Paul." An organ sonata fashioned on the Lord’s Prayer -- so much creativity, so much life, so much soul, and it was unleashed by Christ.

In the Netherlands, in the 17th Century, a young painter was stumbling through life, surrounding himself with wine, women, and song. Look at Rembrandt’s early self-portraits, and they are the face of an indulgent young man. But things changed. Rembrandt married, but he and his wife lost three of their four children quite young. Then his wife too died, and Rembrandt’s self-portraits, of which he did many, became full of brooding and depression. Everyone noticed how dark his paintings were, and how much they seemed to point to a troubled spirit. Troubled he was indeed, with lawsuits and bad debts and promiscuous behavior. But in his later years Rembrandt started to paint scenes from the New Testament, especially scenes from the life of Jesus. Look at them and you will see a life being transformed. This masterful artist began to see Christ Jesus for who He really is.

Rembrandt the moody mole slowly but surely became a shining soul. He gave us a painting of Mary Magdalene, contemplating her sin, but with a glowing light shining behind her, the light of forgiveness. And a painting of Peter, tortured by his denials, but lifted up by the light from Jesus’ face. And a painting of Paul, one of my favorites, where the one who had once persecuted believers now sits writing his grand epistles, and there is a warm light shining around his face.

Do you get it? Rembrandt, coming to Christ, gave us paintings that send one central message -- that the light shines in darkness and darkness cannot put it out. It is light eternal, life eternal. It is from Christ. It is everything.

Source: From a sermon by Joseph Smith, "Moles or Souls?" 2/21/20090

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