Woman in purple suit – 23 May 2022
Here is a portrait. The woman is not known to us, but there are things we might notice. Take a moment to look carefully at her.
First of all, you will notice she is looking straight at you, seated on a mahogany chair. She has a firm and confident gaze. You will have to look away first. Her face is open, there might be a hint of a smile around her mouth. She is relaxed.
The woman wears a purple suit and a grey blouse, she holds matching grey gloves on her lap. The background is free of detail, but the colours give the woman contrast, and add to her sense of presence.
The picture is ‘Woman in a purple suit’ (1954) by the Canadian artist Marion Long. Long made a significant contribution to the art of war, interpreting World War 1 from a woman’s perspective. The painting here, likely commissioned by the sitter, depicts a confident woman in the changing world after the second war.
The picture is chosen for today, as we consider Lydia, the seller of purple, the first convert to Christianity in what is now Europe.
She is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Proverbs 31:22, on the woman of noble character
We therefore set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
“What is this Sabbath,” they ask who pursue Artemis,
“That Lydia, seller of purple, consummate matron of the marketplace
In Philippi, should lock us from her shop one day in seven?
They cannot know how I in the brightness of noonfire
Came gratefully to the code of Moses. The Lord thy God
Shall prosper thee, Lydia of Thyatira;
Thou shalt keep the Sabbath holy unto Him.
When moon gloss and silk of night unfold into Sabbath dawn,
I with my household and other soft-tongued women of decision
Gather us streamside to chant the ancient melody.
A longing for truth pulls us to grass under our knees:
“Thou has given us the Law, great God of Abraham;
Teach us now its deeper meaning.”
One latticed Sabbath morning, when the sky like a great joy
Postured us before curtains of sunlight and the stream
Wore a silence shimmering as love, bright with the light
Of Heaven came to us Paul and Silas, bearing an eloquent testament.
The miracles they told wrote truth’s considerable duty
On my life: The Redeemer that Isaiah prophesied has come;
Gravely He lived among us, filling His messianic mission—
He healed the sick, gave light to sightless eyes
And fed the listening multitudes at Galilee—till magistrates,
Blinded by His unfamiliar light, shouted Him to the cross.
Even the tomb could not contain him; He rose from death.
“He lives,” sang Paul, “and He will always live.
He is the Purpose in our purpose here.”
Sun-jewelled hours dwindled to evening shades; moonlight wrapped
Itself around us. Still we listened, learning. What beauty
In this widening of truth—wisdom echoing wisdom, faith
Kindling faith. Henceforth the Law would flourish in a new
Dimension. Henceforth the Law would sing with the voice of harps;
For He taught a loftier concept—we are all God’s children:
Thou shalt love diligently the Lord thy God;
Then thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“Make me,” I said to Paul, “an instrument of His perfect Love;
Let me be advocate for Him in Philippi.
Then when they ask, they who follow Artemis,
‘What is this Sabbath that Lydia, seller of purple,
Should lock us from her shop one day in seven?’
I shall exulting answer, ‘He who made the world and spoke the Law
Has given me voice. Join me; fervent in the Sabbath dawn
I celebrate His love, His light, His Church in Philippi.
He lives to endow our lives with hope and meaning.’”
Maxine Redder Jennings, Lydia, Seller of Purple