Earthworks – The Distant Figure

Last week we began a five week journey through this year’s art installation at Southwark Cathedral. Each year an artist helps us explore something through the medium of art which we hope will enhance people’s engagement with Lent. The invitation is to come to the Cathedral and journey through the elements of this installation, the work of the artist Peter Burke. Those, however who cannot get to the Cathedral can nevertheless make the same journey through these pictures and thoughts.

The prayer that accompanies the journey which we have called ‘Earthworks’ is this

Creator God,
from the earth you took us,
to the dust we will return
and from the soil
you brought your son, Jesus,
an earthwork
to lead us heavenward.
Open our earthy hands to receive you,
guide our earthy feet to find you
and may we stand before you,
created before creator.

The visitor begins by looking at a series of hands which are in the nave of the Cathedral. Then they make their way into the south choir aisle where they are encouraged to pause and look towards the retrochoir where the next elements of the installation areto be found. In the distance they see a standing but at this stage, distant figure.

‘Who is this that comes from Edom,
from Bozrah in garments stained crimson?
Who is this so splendidly robed,
marching in his great might?’

‘It is I, announcing vindication,
mighty to save.’
(Isaiah 63.1)

What do you think when you see this figure in the distance? Does it unsettle you? Are you not quite sure what to make of it?


On the morning of the resurrection Mary Magdalene, in the first light of dawn, sees someone approaching and does not know who it is. In reality she knew exactly who the person was, she had spent so much time with him, he had pulled her life back from the brink. But at that moment she didn’t realise that it was Jesus. As we see a figure in the distance we are not always certain what to expect.

The prophets, people like Isaiah, looked into the future and saw dim reflections of what was to come. ‘Who is this?’ asks the prophet. ‘It is I’ comes the response. But though they couldn’t see everything clearly they prepared us for the one who was to come, Jesus, whose journey to the cross we remember at this time. When people first met him they often asked the question ‘Who are you?’ and then as they got to know him, as they heard his teaching, as he healed them, forgave them what they saw became clearer and like Peter they were able to say

‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ (Matthew 16.16)

He saw clearly who Jesus was – the distant figure was now the imminent figure, God among us.


What do you think when you see this figure in the distance? Does it unsettle you?

Think about how people see you. Do you allow them to see who you really are? Do you allow people to come close and know you, fully, or do you prefer others to keep their distance? Jesus drew people to him so that they knew that he really was the one ‘mighty to save.’


Loving God,
in Jesus you have come close to us.
May we allow others to draw close
to know us as you know us
to enter our space
and share our lives.

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