The Guardian, Jonathan Jones on Art blog writes the following and ends with a question. This post is an attempt to respond to that question:
According to the British art critic Jonathan Jones, many Renaissance artists were “coldly curious” or even cruel in their depictions of old age. For instance, Leonardo da Vinci scorned elderly faces as “monstrous wrecks.” Fortunately, there was one notable exception to this habit of mocking the elderly—Rembrandt. Jones writes, “Rembrandt painted old age with a nobility and power that no artist has ever approached.” He recognized “the dignity and character of aged faces” and embraced “the marks of time as beautiful, mysterious, and rich.” Rembrandt was much more interested in what Jones calls “the mystery behind someone’s eyes.”
But Rembrandt’s deepest study of aging was based on his own life. Rembrandt painted more self portraits than any other artist of the 17th century, and all together they tell the story of his journey into old age. For instance, in 1640, at the height of his career, Rembrandt painted his “Self Portrait at the Age of 34.” Decked out in an elaborate and fashionable costume, Rembrandt looks self-assured and even snobbish. But nearly thirty years later in 1669, the year of his death, Rembrandt painted “Self Portrait at the Age of 63.” In this painting he wears a simple peasant coat and beret. His face looks wise, humble, and peaceful. Jones concludes, “At 34 [Rembrandt] looks proud, at 63 he simply looks human. To be sure, Rembrandt is an artist to grow old with.”
So what can the church learn from Rembrandt?
1. Teach Children, to obey and respect their parents in the Lord, for this is right.
2. Teach children to “Honor their fathers and mothers” (this is the first commandment with a promise),
3. Remind them that this comes with a promise. “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
4. The church can also make ministry to seniors a priority. The elderly is worth pursuing with the gospel of Jesus. Recently it has become uncool to do senior ministry. We’ve taken away their choruses and hymnals and slapped them in the face the all kinds of stupid songs in the name of becoming relevant or current. And if they don’t like it, well, they can go down the street to the retirement center where they still sing the songs they like.
5. Make them useful. They still have ministry in them. Train them to mentor younger kids. Use them in ministry. Your older church pianist may not be able to play those upbeat and difficult songs on Sunday mornings, but you can still work with what they can do. Include them, use them from time to time. Don’t just fire them. After all they have a ministry too. Look for ways you can use them. And make them feel as valuable as the other younger and gifted musicians.
6. Finally the church must continue to preach and teach about the power of humility, the value of godly wisdom, embracing one’s own humanity and resting in the peace that comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ.