The Sermon – 20 January 2020

Dutch peasants, wearing their Sunday finest, are in church listening to a sermon. At the center of the painting is a young woman, who having taken off her jacket, has settled into her seat and fallen asleep. Most of the figures are shown carefully listening, the inclination of their heads indicating where they are giving their attention. One woman turns to observe the sleeping girl – what does her face suggest? Is she disapproving or concerned? Is the girl exhausted, or disinterested and bored?

This picture is visually interesting. The figures are shown close up, we do not get a sense of the size of the church, or who else is there. We cannot see the preacher, but we do get a sense of the preaching. The blue colour of the raised seating set around the walls of the church (occupied by men only!) is used for the jacket of the woman in the far left. This encourages the viewer’s eye to move backwards and forwards across the group. As you look, notice who catches your attention and wonder why. Directly above the sleeping girl’s head, on the surface in front of the side seating, is an enormous Bible. Here is a church where the word of God is taken seriously and is a weighty matter.

The painting is by Gari Melchers and is called ‘The Sermon’ (1886). Melchers was one of a group of American artists painting in Europe at this time. He trained in France, his approach to painting shaped by the late impressionists, and by those interested in socio-realist art. In some ways his style anticipated that of Norman Rockwell, with elements of social caricature.


Lord, thy Word abideth,
and our footsteps guideth;
who its truth believeth
light and joy receiveth.

When our foes are near us,
then thy Word doth cheer us,
Word of consolation,
message of salvation.

When the storms are o’er us,
and dark clouds before us,
then its light directeth,
and our way protecteth.

Who can tell the pleasure,
who recount the treasure,
by thy Word imparted
to the simple-hearted?

Word of mercy, giving
succor to the living;
word of life, supplying
comfort to the dying!

O that we, discerning,
its most holy learning,
Lord, may love and fear thee,
evermore be near thee!

Henry W Baker, 1881