A  Picture  For  Ascension Tide

“ Noli Me Tangere”  - Touch Me Not

By Graham Sutherland

Do you recognise this picture? You may do because

it is one of ours! It hangs in Chichester Cathedral.

It is only a small picture but immensely powerful.

What can it be? It looks very strange. A man in a straw hat,

going up a staircase, pointing upwards, a woman stretched

out and up to reach him.

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It recounts the scene on the first Easter Day when the risen Jesus

says to Mary Magdalene ‘ Touch me not’, meaning ‘Do not hold me’,

because He is already on His way to heaven. The hat helps explain

why Mary thought He was the gardener. (John Ch. 20).

The artist’s best known work is the huge tapestry in Coventry Cathedral.

How did this picture come to be in our Cathedral? It was commissioned

by the Dean, Walter Hussey, in 1961.

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What then does the picture mean?  He had already told them that it

was for their good for Him to return to the Father because then

the Holy Spirit would be sent, His presence with them, and us all, for ever.

Now the meaning of those words becomes clear. He is reaching to heaven

but still reaching down to us, who are reaching out to him. It reminds us

of that famous picture by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel,

God reaching out to Adam, but who can’t quite make it. Here through

Christ’s  permanent in-dwelling in us the bond will never be broken.

Do you like it? Treat yourself and go and see it, when you can!

Too modern? Hooray! That makes it contemporary, for today, unlike

the great masters which often put Christ in the past.  

Fr Tony



Our Lady of Manchester’ by Harold Riley, 1983
Commissioned by Fr Denis Clinch of St Mary’s Catholic Church, Manchester.

This painting shows Mary in prayer with a piece of paper between her hands. On the paper is an ancient Roman code of the Lord’s Prayer. However, the distinctive feature is the background, the landscape, which shows Mary not in an idyllic Italian landscape but in the industrial landscape of Manchester. 
To her right we see a road lined and dotted with street lamps, all winding into a forest of cooling towers and leading into a red and black sky. The artist has painted Mary to show that she is very much from this landscape; her face, clothes and hands are painted with the same light and dark of the background. She is of and from Manchester, and not just a holy woman flown in by God to help and pray for the people of Manchester.
Just as the painting shows us a city rich in industrial history and culture, so we also see a woman whose beauty, character and prayer grow from that history and culture. Like a plant from soil.
If you had to paint this picture what would you include in the background to show your own personal history and background? What’s the soil of your life like? As well as the place and time you grew up in what other things would you include? What events, memories? What would your Mary look like? 
What would she be praying for and where would she be praying from?
Here’s a suggestion for something you can do for yourself. Creativity in the lockdown! Enjoy!
Making my own `Mary of….’

  1. Find a picture you like of Mary. You may have a favourite one in mind. Take a print or copy of it.  
  2. Cut round the figure so that you end up with Mary minus the background. 
  3. Stick the figure onto a blank piece of A4 paper, or whatever size you’d like to use.
  4. Now for the background, draw your life. It doesn’t have to be just a landscape of where you’re from as in
        `Our Lady of Manchester’, it could be a mix of different bits and pieces.  
  5. And remember, you can `draw’ in different ways, it doesn’t have to be pencil and paint. Collages: cutting out,
        arranging and assembling bits, has been, and still is, used by many artists. Old photographs and bits from magazines
        are always interesting to use. For the more tech savvy there’s also photoshop!
  6. When finished use the picture in your prayers. There may be specific things in the picture you want to pray about.
        Or people who need your prayers. Lighting a candle in front of the picture and just being there, looking at the picture
        (or letting the picture look at you!), is a way of praying. As you do this, remind yourself that Mary prays with you and
        for you. You’re not alone.
  7. Finally, if you’d like to share your picture with others then why not send a copy of it to the parish website or facebook
        page

Fr Keith

Supper at Emmaus      Ceri Richards  1958

It may not be immediately obvious what this picture is all about.
It’s so ordinary. But that's the whole point! For it is Christ with us in ordinary life, at the kitchen table. No halo. No obvious holiness. Just the marks of his passion, a hand raised in blessing and bread broken.  With ordinary people like us.

It is a modern version of the events in today's Gospel.  Jesus walks with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they don't recognise him until he sits down to eat with them and breaks the bread.  Then the penny drops. It’s Him. It’s the risen Lord.
Do you like it? I do. Much more than those by the great masters which you can see on Google. (Just tap in Supper at Emmaus.)
 
It reminds me of the wonderful intimacy of Christ's risen presence, as friend and brother, who moved among people like us in everyday life.
Above all it recalls how we come to Christ's presence especially together in the breaking of bread. In bread broken we have Christ's passion daily before our eyes. This is my body, broken for you. The sign and source now of His abiding presence with us.

This is a great picture for today. There you are at home.  Maybe at the kitchen table. And through the marvels of modern technology He is especially present with you.
'Spiritual Communion' is not inferior Communion. It is different Communion.

Some may remember in earlier days the main Celebration was 'non- Communicating High Mass' in later morning. If you wanted to take Holy Communion you went to Mass early, after fasting. So in a way we are returning, temporarily, to an older pattern. Yes we long to receive  Communion in the Blessed Sacrament but God is not defeated by a virus. He is wonderfully present in our steaming of Mass and how intimate and lovely that is.  Just like in the picture.

Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any one hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his house and eat with him, and he will eat with me. ( Revelation 3.20 )

Fr Tony


`Christ appearing to the Virgin’, Flemish, 15th century, 
National Gallery, London

This painting shows Jesus visiting mum after the resurrection. As you can see it’s all a bit of a shock for her. Is Mary’s right hand being raised in surprise and praise, or is she about to take a swipe at him, or both, `What on earth? You nearly gave your mother had a heart attack…’ 
You won’t find this story in the Gospels but somehow it all makes sense. After all, who wouldn’t visit their mum after being resurrected? 
As with many a resurrection picture we see the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet, but we all know that there are wounds that can’t be seen. Jesus’ trauma of personal violent attack, rejection, failure and isolation. These too are part of Jesus’ resurrected life. Mary’s life too. She lets go of the book she’s reading. Maybe she’s searching the pages to find some comfort and meaning after the total collapse of her life. Instead she turns towards something human, alive, down to earth and divine, her son. 
Below are a couple of reflections about Mary and the cross. The first reflection is by a writer and mum, and the second is a poem by a priest. (For anyone who might be upset by a bit of earthy language in the poem you could always leave out the third verse!) 

`Can you imagine being Mary, sitting in her house, overcome with grief and despair at losing her son? Grief that we can relate to because of loss in our own lives. And then he appears to Mary.
What would the dialogue sound like?
“Woman, why are you crying?”
“I thought I had lost you.”
“I am here. I am here. I am risen, Mom. I am risen.”
“You are here, Son.”
Being a mom, I cannot even imagine the depth of joy Mary felt at seeing her son again. I have no doubt that her heart burst with joy and that she was radiant with love and hope. Can you imagine the depth of her consolation in that moment?
But what does Mary’s experience have to do with our lives? EVERYTHING!
In this Easter season we celebrate Mary’s joy that her son is here. We celebrate that Jesus is alive in each of us, in our world, creating us moment by moment. We celebrate that we can experience the joy Mary felt at seeing her son because Jesus lives within us. Easter reminds us of the reason to hope in the first place—because of the Resurrection of Mary’s son!’

Becky Eldredge

Pietà

They lifted him down
From the arms of the cross,
And caught his body as it crumpled to earth.
‘Make way’, said the rich man,
‘I’ve crossed a few palms;
He’ll lodge in my tomb, newly hewn.’
But she who had only a womb to offer
Ferreted her way from the back of the crowd,
Through the worthy citizens drifting away,
To cuddle the criminal fruit of her womb
As she cuddled him once in a Bethlehem night.

What lives in your womb, O Mother of failure,
As you crouch in the dust under the Gallows Tree?
Mingle the blood and the water, too,
Make clay with the crimson crumbs of the earth.
And you who’ve housed creation’s maker,
Give birth to a new creation,
Where the powerless and the abandoned poor
Find a kingdom home, which you fashion with love.

Failure is the crucible of love;
It is in the very shit
Of human wretchedness
That the seeds of love and love’s fidelity,
Are sown, take root, and come to burst the frightened earth
Of ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ‘we’,
Because only when there’s no reason,
No cause, no debt, no call upon duty
Is love what love is.

Fr Patrick Purnell SJ

JESUS WASHING PETER’S FEET
Ford Maddox Brown, 1852-1856, Tate Britain

I wonder if you remember an art series on TV from 1980 called `The Shock of the New.’ It was all about the beginning of Modern Art. The kind of art that sometimes gets the response, `My three year old son can do better than that!’ And I always remember a comment from a lady at an exhibition who was standing in front of a piece of modern painting, `Well I’m sure he could do a lot better if he tried.’ I remember the comment because the painting was mine! Ouch!

With art as well as with many other things, we know what we like or what we feel comfortable with and find it hard when something different comes along. 

When this painting of Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet was first shown there was an outcry because the original picture depicted Jesus half naked, even though this was nearer the details of the story in John’s Gospel. It wasn’t until the painter covered him up a bit that the painting eventually sold.  

When Jesus first washed his disciples’ feet it caused an outcry. The disciples were outraged and shocked that their leader was washing feet, a job which would have been done by a house servant. And what’s more, he wanted them, and all who follow him, to do the same. 

Jesus was giving us a different way of looking at life. Of living. A different way of understanding human relationships. This new way had nothing to do with hierarchy, prestige or power over others. Remember what he once said to his disciples, `You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.’

Look at their faces in the picture. What do you see? How are they reacting? For me they look as if their world is coming to end. Look at Peter’s face. They just can’t get their heads round this one. 

The perspective of the picture puts us on the floor with Jesus. We’re with him at ground level. Like him, we’re looking up to the people in the picture. Maybe that’s one way of serving people, looking up to them in the sense that we’re thinking the best of them. What do you think?

In the picture Jesus looks like he’s back in his carpenter’s workshop. The way he holds Peter’s foot looks like he’s making something on his bench, a powerful reminder that he is making something new. A new kingdom with a new kind of king. Which may feel uncomfortable for us. The shock of the new. A shock to wake us up to who we really are. And what God is like.


O Christ the Master Carpenter,
Who at the last, through wood and nails
Made all things new:
Wield well your tools in the workshop of your world,
So that we, who come rough-hewn to your bench,
May be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand:
This we ask for your own names sake. 
Amen

 

The Taking of Christ  1602  by Caravaggio
Now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

An essential part of Holy Week is to enter into the violence and chaos of these days.  Essential that is to understand the price paid and the victory won.
This moment captures the moment of Our Lord's descent into hell.   The way from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Easter was inescapably through the terrible Garden of Gethsemane. Betrayal, desertion, degradation.

The picture has an interesting history. It disappeared for centuries and only reappeared by accident in Dublin in 1990. It had been given to the Jesuit House years before and not given much attention. However when layers of dirt and discoloured varnish were removed a masterpiece emerged. A picture for our age.

On the far left is S. John, terrified. Look at the arms raised and mouth open.  He is being snatched back by a soldier. You may just see his brown cloak above his head, caught by the soldier. Its a putsch. A round up. Like Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia. 
Next is Jesus. Look at his face. No anger. No resistance. Look at his hands.  They are tied but not by rope but love. Look at the embrace of Judas.  Confident and intense, totally convinced he has done the expedient thing.

On the far right of the picture is a figure believed to be Caravaggio himself.  He puts himself into the picture as an observer and participant in it.   He could be you or me.
But the very centre of the picture belongs to a soldier, in gleaming black armour.  He is sinister and dangerous, a man under orders. Only doing my job.  Riot Police. He is the arm of the police state. Nothing new.

Suddenly we realise we are not only looking at history but our world now.  Human rights and dignity and justice are trampled on in so many places.  And may get worse. How amazingly contemporary are these seemingly far off  events of Holy Week. They are relived around us in so many ways.
But with this huge difference now. Easter. There are no depths of fear and sorrow  which Our Lord has not also known before us and who will carry us through.   Therefore He and we can look at the world today, yours, mine, and ours, and know there is nothing we cannot face together.
Jesus, may all that is you flow into me.

May your body and blood be my food and drink.
May your passion and death be my strength and life.
Jesus, with you by my side, enough has been given.

Fr Tony


The Crowning with Thorns

This painting is thought to be by Hieronymous Bosch. Opinion is mixed. Whoever it's by, the painter has given us a portrait of Christ, which for me, is the most haunting and attractive I know of. 
On first coming across this as a teenager on a visit to the National Gallery in London I was drawn by the face, Jesus looking at me. It's a small picture so to get a good look I had to get close up. And by the time I'd done that, and was held by his look so still and calming, I realised that I was near enough to be the sixth person in that picture. He was looking at me, `It's alright. Don't worry.' 
There's no deep space in the background so the whole effect is a bit like being in a small room, not much social distancing here! Now I could take in the scene, a violent and horrific display, a freeze frame moment before the thorns sink in and the blood flows and the hate and rejection are made sickeningly real for the poor victim. The only thing is he didn't look like a victim. But they did, ridden by whatever's going on inside them. Have a good look at their faces, the expressions. What do they show you about how they feel? What about Jesus' face? How is he feeling? What is he thinking? How does he make you feel? 

There's no need to release the freeze frame device. We know very well what will happen next. We know the story. It doesn't end well. But it's not the whole picture. There's more than darkness here. `Father forgive them. They don't know what they're doing.' We don't even need to look outside Bosch's picture to see beyond the darkness. In the end the four figures are, and have always been, on the periphery, they frame the scene but they don't provide the meaning. Violence and rejection and hatred, they never last. 

Here is a despicable event transformed by love.
Jesus is the centre of the picture. He's dressed in white and the paint here glows. He is the luminous centre of the universe, the light of the world, and the darkness shall never snuff it out. 

The look of love 
Is saying so much more
Than just words could ever say
                                             Bacharach/David

See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet,
Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
Did e'er such Love and Sorrow meet?
Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown?
                                               Isaac Watts 


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