Paul’s great affirmation of oneness in Christ, irrespective of social, gender, and religious ascriptions (3:28), has continued to echo throughout Western history. It has contributed profoundly to the development of our modern understanding of the nature of the human person as an individual with inherent rights and responsibilities. Paul’s original words were uttered in religious and cultural contexts where a consideration of the human person as an individual was largely unknown. A sense of self was determined by the designations of one’s relations to family, tribe, or race; through birth and upbringing. Identity was largely understood in terms of who you belonged to.
The implications of this insight have taken a long period of time to unfold. They have resulted in the breaking down of enmity across religious and cultural lines, the ending of slavery, the bringing of equal rights to women and men, and access to services and rights under law to people on the margins of society, including those with disabilities, queer folk, asylum seekers, and refugees. In the Church, vociferous arguments have been fought over slavery, women’s ordination, and same sex marriage, based on definitions dearly held about the perceived nature of the human person. Paul’s view is that no one individual is disqualified from bearing the image of God irrespective of the conditions of their birth, their appearance, or their social trajectory.
The rich diversity of human persons gives full incarnational expression to the Christian affirmation of oneness in Christ. In the face of the many ways humans are grouped and separated, categorized, marginalized, or privileged, this is a magnificent invitation that knows no boundary. It is powerfully expressed through the shock of Emmanuel Garibay’s Christ figure, a dark-skinned female in a red dress, at home in a café in the local village. This is the eucharistic meal—the central liturgical action of the church throughout history where people, irrespective of their social, religious, and cultural backgrounds are welcome. Garibay echoes this table of hospitality in his work, and invites us beyond our cultural prejudices and fears so that we may welcome the stranger, and find friendship even with the stranger in us.
In the torrid environment of war and sectarian violence George Gittoes provides an eye-witness account of an encounter with a black ‘Christ’, a preacher in a yellow coat. In the midst of the dehumanizing forces of fear and prejudice one person chooses to embody courage and compassion. This figure, through calm action and the use of familiar words, enables a community of people to live out what is to be truly human, rather than respond in fear or acts of reprisal. It echoes the deep cry of creation for reconciliation and embodies the figure of Christ as peacemaker.
Kara Walker invites us to reconsider our history and to scrutinize those icons we hold dear, even those we have believed would save us. The Christ figure is entangled in our history. Does Christ operate as a source of liberation and hope for all people, or has this figure appeared as an icon of power that has conquered, oppressed, and held people captive? We now live in a time where humans have an impact on every aspect of this planet’s ongoing development. Humans rule the world, warm the environment, engender violence, maintain tribal allegiances, sometimes find reconciliation, and yearn for peace and hope. Where do we find Christ present as a source of hope adequate to address the future, crowded as it is with prospects of climate change, nationalistic competition for resources, and ongoing cycles of human conflict and terrorism?
The vision of the oneness in Christ that quickened the mind of Paul the Apostle offers a possibility of justice in the world for all people based on their equal worth as part of God’s creation. This exhibition offers visual evidence that Christ might also be found beyond the margins of our traditions and comfortable habits. This surprising, shocking, and unexpected stranger is the familiar Christ. Given the visual evidence, the incarnation of Christ might announce itself as a simple moment of surprise. Christ standing next to me, in the shoes of the stranger, my neighbour.
23 Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. 24So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
4 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; 2but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. 4But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.