Archive for the 'Ordinary Time' Category

Trinity Sunday, Matthew 28:16-20

December 3, 2011

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.

Proper 11, Romans 8:18-27

December 3, 2011

Historical Description:

Michelangelo (1475-1564), an Italian Renaissance artist, famous for sculptures such as the Pietà and David, and for frescoes, such as The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, left many works unfinished.

In Florence, visitors to the Galleria dell’Accademia can see four of Michelangelo’s unfinished slaves.  Originally part of sixteen figures intended for Pope Julius II’s tomb, these slaves are forever trapped in marble, struggling to break free.

Each of the figures faces the viewer, offering a full torso and then fragments of legs, arms, and head, as if the artist worked from the front to the back of the block of marble while the figures in his mind rose to meet him from the stone.

Devotional Reflection:

If you were to go to the city of Florence and stand in the hallway of the Galleria dell’Accademia, you’d find yourself in an awkward place.  There, before you, are four unfinished pieces of stone.  An artist was working on pieces of marble but stopped in the middle of his work.  The edges are rough.  The stone is misshapen.  And yet, you can see just the beginning of figures.  People emerging from the rock.   Some have no faces.  Others are missing arms.  What you see are merely the beginning of four figures.  They are slaves.  Prisoners.  Begun by Michelangelo but never finished.  His work has been frozen in time.  What they once were, rough blocks of marble, is gone.  What they will be, beautiful sculptures, is not yet here.  Instead, they invite us to stand here in an awkward moment.  The past is gone and yet not gone.  The future is here and yet not here.  We are invited to live, to hope, to trust in what has yet to be.

In our text this morning, Paul invites us into a hallway like this.  He asks us to see how we are caught right now in the middle of God’s greater work.  Paul begins by saying, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).  Suffering and glory held together in this moment.  Like rough hewn stone, our present world is filled with suffering.  God had originally formed a beautiful creation.  Wherever one looked, one could see God’s fingerprints and it was beautiful and it was good.  Adam and Eve, however, brought suffering into God’s creation.  They disobeyed God and brought God’s curse into the world.  “The day you eat of it, you shall die,” God said and God, true to his word, subjected the beauty of creation to the bondage of decay.  Such punishment was set in stone.  Only God could set his creature free.  Only God could bring about a new creation.  This is what Paul has seen in Jesus Christ.  Just a glimpse of the glory of the new creation.  First fruit foretells a future harvest and Jesus Christ is the first fruit of life after death.  Raised from the dead, he is the promise of a new creation.  Our future resurrection into never-ending glory.  God has begun this good work and, like this glimpse of figures in stone, it is only a matter of time before the full glory of God is revealed.

So Paul writes to the Romans to help them stand in this painful moment.  And his words come to us to help us stand here today.  In Christ, we have been made into the children of God.  This is sure.  This is certain.  His death has destroyed the power of sin for you and his resurrection has brought you the promise of a new creation.  Yet what we are is not fully seen and experienced in this world.  Take a deep close look at God’s people, Paul says, and you will see a people, imprisoned and suffering, groaning because they desire to be free.

So we stand, awkwardly positioned between the sufferings of this present world and the glory yet to be revealed.  And in this place, the apostle Paul asks us to meditate on our situation and to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.