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Reform Magazine | November 20, 2017

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Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Divine crustaceans

Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Divine crustaceans

Simon Jenkins on divine crustaceans

There was some good news a week or two ago when the face of Jesus was spotted on a crab trying to escape from a fishing pot. A US park ranger made the identification when the crab flipped over onto its back to reveal the face of our Lord on its belly. Personally, I think the markings look more like Guy Fawkes wearing sunglasses, but Regis (the park ranger) immediately posted a pic on her Twitter feed with the caption: ‘Went crabbing. Found @jesus.’

This was good news for two reasons: first, the holy crab was spared from becoming someone’s supper, and was instead allowed to scuttle back into the sea; and second, at least the face of Jesus hadn’t appeared on the back end of a hairy-arsed dog – as happened a couple of years ago, to much hilarity on Facebook.

The past few months have been a bumper time for people finding God in unpromising places. Indeed, guest appearances by Jesus have been reported in the news with ever increasing frequency. Since the beginning of the year, his bearded features have been clocked on a tortilla in Honduras, a boulder on Mars, the back of a moving truck in Montreal, a rock in Kenya, an old oak tree in Texas, a slice of buttered toast in Oregon, and a pebble from a beach in Devon. Not all of these have been greeted with a burst of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’. When a big, gloomy, bearded Christ was discerned in the wood grain of a toilet door in Ikea Glasgow, The Sun headlined the story: ‘He’s knot the Messiah’.

I can’t let the mention of a tortilla go by without noting that the love affair between Jesus and the Latin flat bread has been passionate and enduring. It’s even been celebrated in an episode of The Simpsons, where God cuts short a conversation with Homer by saying: ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to appear on a tortilla in Mexico.’ The Lord has kept that appointment so many times in recent years, that it seems the tortilla has overtaken the thunderbolt as his favoured method of grabbing the attention of the human race.

The rapid acceleration of Jesus sightings this year must mean: a) that the second coming cannot long be delayed, and we may be just one righteous Dorito away from the rapture. Or b) that people have been getting wise to how much a Christ on a cream cracker can fetch these days on the internet. The man who found Jesus on his slice of toast, for example, testified that the image was a great comfort as he was ‘missing loved ones who have passed away’. But a few days later, he stuck the holy toast on eBay with a starting price of $25,000.

Despite the heretical headline in The Sun, the recipients of these unexpected glimpses of Jesus have other ideas about what it all means. ‘It’s a reminder to the world. He’s here,’ says the woman who spotted the Lord in a Texan tree. ‘It’s a call from God for young people to come close to Christ,’ says the Honduran woman about her tortilla. And for the atheist who discovered Jesus in Ikea: ‘I just thought it was the spitting image of Jesus. Maybe he’s watching over me.’

The fascinating thing is that Christians have always responded to images of Jesus and the saints in this straightforward way. Today, Christian icons and images are used in prayer retreats and for personal devotion in sophisticated ways (for example for prayer and meditation). But in the early days of the Church, things were a lot more down to earth. People started praying before icons because their wife was in labour, or because their cows gave no milk, or because they wanted their business to make money.

So, while miraculous sightings of Jesus reported on the internet are invariably tacky and entertaining, they also make you think, because holy things materialising in humble locations is what the faith of Jesus is all about. Maybe they’re a comic poke in the ribs that says: God is taking a break from church to spend time in the grittiness of everyday life. A few years ago, when a face of Jesus started to take shape on an old and yellowing receipt from Walmart, someone commented online: ‘God appeared to Moses as a burning bush, as a pillar of fire to the Israelites, and as an angel to Abraham … and we get a Walmart receipt?’ Well, yes. And isn’t that so New Testament? Jesus was born in a barn. So is it any surprise that he travels by truck, goes to the loo in Ikea, and shops at Walmart?

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This article was published in the September 2017 edition of  Reform

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