Malibu, California – Quietly walking into Stauffer Chapel with the gentle morning sun to their backs, Good Friday worshipers at Pepperdine University held an array of feelings in their hearts. Good Friday is a day of tension for modern worshippers, balancing the deep feelings of grief that come from acknowledging the sacrifice of Jesus’ crucifixion and death and the joy of the resurrection they know is yet to come on Easter Sunday. Most of the guests – students, professors, and community members – were united in feeling both.
Gazing forward at the rows of pews and an iridescent stained-glass window, worshipers’ gazes were interrupted by something profound – a Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, open to a striking illumination of the crucifixion.
The presence of The Saint John’s Bible that day gave the congregation the gift of direction. Instead of falling away into the ether, the worshipers’ heart tugs and swirling thoughts were given the opportunity for further reflection. Their contemplation was not put to rest but ignited by an image of Christ on the Cross in all gold, surrounded by a purple velvet night sky with celestial bodies all around Him.
The Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible is the first hand-written illuminated Bible of its scale commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in more than 500 years. Donald Jackson, the official scribe and calligrapher for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, led art direction of the limited editions, of which there are only 299 in the world.
“Opening The Saint John’s Bible to Donald Jackson’s illumination of the crucifixion of Christ, we contemplated the beautiful art: the deep purple of the torn temple veil, the blazing gold of the fully divine and yet fully human Christ crucified, and the earthy brown scene of his disciples gathered at the foot of the cross,” said Lucy Perrin, Director and Archivist for the Rushford Center for Research and Churches of Christ Heritage Collection. “The full import of Good Friday began to descend on us. How do we sit in the reality of the crucifixion in preparation for Easter?”
Pepperdine University acquired the full seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition in 2012 to celebrate the University’s 75th anniversary. As part of the placement, Donald Jackson himself visited Pepperdine University and led a series of speeches commemorating the importance of The Saint John’s Bible to the Pepperdine Community.
Pepperdine University has since committed strongly to using and sharing the Saint John’s Bible, taking it on community trips to engage with local churches and Christian groups, bringing the Bible into literature, history, or philosophy classrooms to inspire further learning, and incorporating the work into religious services.
Into Your Hands
Once every worshiper had time for individual contemplation of the piece, the opening notes of “Drive Out the Darkness,” performed by students Nicholas Barron and Haily Watson, called everyone from their solitary exploration into a communal rhythm of unity.
After liturgy came to an end, congregation members all found their way back to The Saint John’s Bible for a second time. This time, they spoke. Each individual had a different interpretation of the illumination to contribute. Every new discovery and opinion aided in everyone else’s understanding of the crucifixion and its significance. The passion for further understanding was nothing short of contagious. Perrin even noticed one high school student who flipped through every single page of the book.
“All of the rich spiritual imagery that’s there, those are the things we want to talk about and linger over the book about,” said Perrin. “Sometimes the librarian would point to the illumination and say, ‘See how the veil has been torn in this picture? See how that separation between man and God is falling away? See how, here’s Christ, he’s this very physical, very human person, on the cross, dying, but the total divinity is still represented in the gold leafing.’”
“He is completely human and completely divine,” added Perrin. “Seeing the disciples there, they’re earthly and probably confused and don’t have any understanding of what’s happening. It shows the whole picture of what’s there. The Words of Jesus, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,’ (Luke. 23:46) illuminated on the page, were showing us how to surrender, how to trust in God in the light of the crucifixion.”
The Earth has taken many journeys around the sun since the first Good Friday, and there will be many more yet to come. There will always be the opportunity for a deeper understanding of the crucifixion, new discovery of the spiritual self, and a deeper connection to the Lord, year after year after year.
The Saint John’s Bible: Ignite the Spiritual Imagination
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