The mercy seat – 13 June 2022

Here is an image of the Trinity – a small one, just 30cm high. We might think of the Trinity as complex and requiring space (many words and explanations), but here is something succinct.

Working from the front, the dead body of the crucified Christ is held in the arms of an angel, resting on the angel’s knee. We can see the wounds, and although the body is solid and real, we know for certain that Christ has died.

The angel is lifting the Son onto the lap of the Father, with a gaze upwards (to where?), full of pathos.

The Father stands behind, raising his hand in blessing. The content of the blessing is the crucified Son. The father looks down on the body of Christ, and is deeply saddened.

Proceeding from the Father is the Spirit, in the form of a dove. This was the form the Spirit took at the baptism of Christ, when the father declared ‘this is my Son, the beloved’. The occupies the space between the Father and the Son.

The sculpture was made around 1430 carved out of a block of alabaster by Hans Multscher, a sculptor from South-Germany (ca. 1400 – 1467). Representations of the Trinity such as this one are called ‘The Mercy Seat’, after the word ‘Gnadenstuhl’ which Luther used in his translation of Hebrews 4:16: ‘Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness.’

 

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

What various hindrances we meet
In coming to the mercy seat!
Yet who, that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there!

Prayer makes the darkened clouds withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw,
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armour bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.

While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
Success was found on Israel’s side;
But when thro’ weariness they fail’d,
That moment Amalek prevail’d.

Have you no words! Ah, think again,
Words flow apace when you complain;
And fill your fellow-creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.

Were half the breath thus vainly spent,
To heav’n in supplication sent;
Your cheerful song would oft’ner be,
“Hear what the LORD has done for me!”

William Cowper, The Mercy Seat