The Imagery of “Have You Seen Jesus My Lord?”

I’ll always remember that first time at church camp when I learned the John Fisher spiritual song, “Have You Seen Jesus My Lord?” I was about nine. I would sometimes picture the songs we would sing. (For example, I would picture the line “to you alone does my spirit yield”  in “As the deer” as (for some reason) a chalky cartoon version of me meeting Christ on a road and letting him pass ahead of me, leading me.) Then I learned to sing “Have you seen Jesus my Lord? He’s here in plain view.”

That plain view became a sort of tryptych in my mind, a view in three different scenes playing out. I took a look with my inner eye, opening my eyes. He showed it to me:

Have you ever stood at the sunset
With the sky mellowing red
Seen the clouds suspended like feathers?
Have you ever stood at the ocean
With the white foam at your feet
Felt the endless thundering motion?

I would picture these two verses in the same moment, as an ocean sunset. My feet met the gentleness of foam and felt the powerful rhythm of the waves, and I knew God was the source of both power and meekness. I knew his brush was the master brush, painting a masterpiece in ever moment of sky. The song spoke to me of God in the art and force of nature.

Have you ever stood at the cross
With a man hanging in pain
And the look of love in his eyes?

Growing up in the Church I had already pictured this scene hundreds of times, but in the song it was a singular vision that blended with the others. I walked from the beach to the cross. If the ocean was treacherous and kind, and the sky was foreboding and welcoming, then the cross could be a place of pain and love.

My young mind was not quite ready to grasp the call of that cross to be borne, but this verse of this song was one of many steps on that road for me. This was the central image in my mental triptych, but it was not the last. I was raised with the importance of picturing the scene of the cross. The refrain reminded me that it wasn’t just fact that Jesus was on that cross, but that the nature of Christ was revealed on that cross. I had not merely seen him, but seen him, glimpsed him in his most loving and sacrificial moment.

Have you ever stood in the family
With the Lord there in the midst
Seen the face of Christ on each other?

The suffering of Christ, though the central image, was not the last. It was not the end of the song, and it was not the end of the vision. The last scene took me from the cross to the people who bear it, the people whose sins were nailed to it, the people who seek the Messiah put upon it. I imagined myself stepping away from the suffering scene to look at a family photo. I pictured the face of Christ literally superimposed upon the face of a family member in the photo. (I know I got the idea from that scene in The Preacher’s Wife when Dudley the angel tries to imagine himself married to Whitney Houston in the Christmas photo, only to hear the thunder of God disapprove of his envy.) As I did this, I had the feeling that I wasn’t finished moving to the next scene, as if my literal face of Christ on a photo wasn’t real enough, and I needed to complete the vision…

As the refrain came around one last time I then turned around and opened my eyes to see the family around me, as if three days had passed, and Jesus was there rejoicing with us. I felt warmed, like the mellow read sky and the salty foam still tickling my feet. I didn’t see a literal picture of Christ, but I felt him standing among us, within us. I felt people embodying Christ, and in this moment they were singing the vision.

Then you could say I had seen Jesus my Lord.

Have you seen this? He’s here in plain view. Sometimes we close our spiritual eyes to this truth. Sometimes it helps to close our physical eye and let the creativity of the Spirit paint for us the portrait of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, the creation he fashioned, the family he adopted, the expectation of the glorious face that will one day be seen in full glory.

One day a long time had gone by since I sang the song. I was visiting a Church that met at Plainview, TN. I was given a card that said, half in jest, “Have you seen Jesus, my Lord? He’s here in Plainview.” A friend and I chuckled at the pun. I then remembered the song again. I closed my eyes on the way home, and looked for Christ in what I had seen recently.

Take a look for yourself.
Open your eyes.

He’ll show it to you.

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