Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951)
by Salvador Dali
copyright 1951

Trinity Sunday, Matthew 28:16-20

Historical Description:

In 1951, Salvador Dali (1904-1989), a surrealist artist, painted Christ of St. John of the Cross, shortly after he returned to Catalonia, Spain.  While Dali demonstrates a broad range of interests in his work, he created this piece during a period he calls “Nuclear Mysticism,” a time when his increasing interest in science joined his increasing devotion to his Catholic faith.

Crucifix drawing (c. 1574-1577) by St. John of the Cross public domain

Dali claimed that this figure came to him in a dream and he modeled it upon a sketch by the sixteenth century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross.  While John of the Cross’s work is an ink sketch on parchment, measuring about 4 by 3 inches, Dali’s painting is oil on canvas and measures over 6 by 3 feet.  What St. John expressed as a tiny window into the faith, Dali expanded into a view of the world.

Devotional Reflection:

In 1961, a visitor walked into the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow . . . carrying a brick.  He found a painting of the crucifixion and started to destroy it.  His anger . . . his violence . . . his desecration of Christian art was not done out of hatred for Christianity but out of love for Christ.  He objected to the way the artist had portrayed the crucifixion of Jesus.

Salvador Dali was the artist and the painting was Christ of St. John of the Cross.  In it, one sees Jesus, hanging on the cross, over the world.  The problem, for the visitor, however, was one of perspective.  Dali had changed the traditional perspective people have on the crucifixion.  Rather than standing below the cross, looking up into the face of Jesus, Dali asks the viewer, for a moment, to be situated above the cross, looking down upon Jesus, who himself is looking down upon the world.  For the visitor, this stance is sacrilegious.  You place yourself above Jesus.

For others, however, this stance is divine.  Some people see what this visitor didn’t see – they see an artist inviting you, for a moment, to have God’s view of the world.  Our heavenly Father looks down upon the fallen world and he sees it through the eyes of his Son Jesus, dying on the cross, for all people.

This vision is hard, even for Christians to see.  As we look at the world, we can often see something we want to run away from rather than run into.  We see the social fabric of God’s creation tearing apart at the seams.  Same sex marriage, divorce, and couples living together outside of marriage have altered God’s plan of one man and one woman for one lifetime.  The complacent killing of children in the womb and yet the ardent fight to preserve the nesting places of an endangered species speaks of a world that has lost its moral compass.  Rather than valuing all of life, our world encourages us to value only some of life, particularly if it is not human.  Seeing poverty that walks our streets looking for a place to sleep while others are buying their second vacation home makes one want to leave this world behind, to enter into some Christian cocoon and wait for the Day of Resurrection, the recreation of all things.

How easy it is for us to enter church and turn our eyes upward to the cross and leave the world behind.  All we can see is Jesus and seeing him, we can forget where we are or what he would have us be doing.  We can simply gaze at Jesus, hanging there on the cross, dying for us and forget that we live in the world and that God has chosen us to be involved in his mission.  Here.  In time.

How hard it is, how terribly hard, to look at Dali’s crucifixion.  Here, when we see Jesus, we cannot escape the world.  No, we find that Jesus asks us to see the world through him.  Jesus hangs there, below us, offering his life for the world.  And he invites us to see the world, through the cross, living in God’s mission of love!

This is the perspective that we discover in our gospel reading this morning.  As Jesus gathers his disciples on the mountain, some of them worship him and others doubt.  They have been through so much.  They have seen death.  Crucifixion.  What the world can do.  Jesus, however, wants them to see something else.  And so he speaks of his mission.  All authority has been given to him and he chooses to use them, his disciples, to bring his love to the ends of the earth.  Going out from there, they are to make disciples by baptizing and teaching and all the while trusting that Jesus is there.  With them.  Always.  In love.  To the end of the age.

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