The banners being displayed in St Mary’s are the first in a series of 8 showing scenes from the life of Jesus. They are the work of the artist Jane Parsons Cope. In each banner the character in the story is shown in the foreground, with Jesus in the distance.
JESUS RIDES INTO JERUSALEM
The first image tells of what happened on the day that the church has come to know as the first Palm Sunday. There was a prophecy that one day the Messiah, God’s ruler, would enter Jerusalem riding on a colt. And here Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding a colt. It is a provocative action.
The illustration focuses on one man who enthusiastically waves a palm leaf, although there were many who welcomed him, waving palm leaves and laying their garments on the road. It was a way of saying, “Come and be our ruler, come and save us”. But a week later, many of those same people were demanding that the Roman authorities crucify Jesus. Why did they welcome him and why di
d they reject him? And if he really is God’s ruler, how did he end up being crucified?
JESUS DRAWS IN THE SAND
The second image is startling. Perhaps it should not be in a church? The woman hangs her head in shame and blushes with embarrassment. Her hair is uncovered and she pulls a red shawl around her bare shoulders. There are stones at her feet.
It tells of when they bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of committing adultery. They demand that she is stoned to death. This was a very traditional society and she had broken the law.
Jesus is silent. He bends down and writes something in the sand. He then stands up and answers her accusers. He says that they may stone her, providing the first stone is thrown by someone who has never sinned. When nobody throws a stone, he looks at the woman, tells her that nobody condemns her, that he does not condemn her, and challenges her to not sin again.
What does the artist imagine that Jesus drew on the ground? Why? Each of us will know times when we have done things that are not right; or times when we have been shamed in front of others; or times when we have judged others forgetting that we too are sinners. We stand with this woman before Jesus. He knows all about us, wants to forgive us and for us to be set free from sin. He says, ‘I do not condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again’.
About the artist: Jane Parsons Cope studied illustration at the Exeter Faculty of Arts and Design (University of Plymouth) and Swindon School of Art and Design. Jane has always had an interest in church banners; her thesis was on the work of the banner artist, Thetis Blacker, and she has designed banners for several churches.