I’d always been ready to poke fun at the culture-vultures who were bussed into Florence to ‘do the city’ in a single day until I found myself in a far worse predicament. I had but three hours in which ‘to do’ the same city while awaiting my connection for Rome. The day was hot and I was tired and felt inclined to curl up in the waiting room to try and make up for the sleep I lost on the train from Brussels, but how would I ever live it down! Somehow I managed to force myself up and out of the station to try and imbibe as much culture as I could in a few hours. By accident rather than design I found myself in the church of La Santa Croce gazing in awe at the works of Giotto. But it wasn’t Giotto who impressed me most but Cimabue, whose stunning crucifixion hung in the apse illuminated by soft ethereal lighting that accentuated the delicate beauty of his masterpiece.
It may seem strange to use the word ‘beauty’ of a work that depicts a dead man nailed to an infamous instrument of torture, but beautiful it was. The artist had painted Christ at the moment of his death. He was no longer in agony but at peace. The soft translucent quality of the figure that seems to stand out from the cross shows Christ at the moment when the Holy Spirit is penetrating his whole being. It is the very moment when his glorification is taking place.
For Saint John the moment of Christ’s death was the moment of his glorification. In that indivisible moment, Christ died, was resurrected and was united with his Father by the power of the Holy Spirit whose life He could then pour out on all. This is why for St. John, the most important symbol in his Gospel is the moment when blood and water flowed from his side. The blood signified the death in which he had given his life for all. The water signified the outpouring of the life he then received, onto and into all who would receive it. Many years of meditating on the events that took place on the first Easter, enabled St. John to see that the historical sequence of events that happened between Good Friday and Pentecost, in fact happened at that indivisible moment when Christ gave and received all..
For St John, the moment Christ dies is the moment when the power of evil is destroyed, the Descent into hell. It is the moment when he is glorified by the outpouring of the Father’s love, the Resurrection, the moment when he is united with the Father, the Ascension, and therefore the moment when he can distribute what he received on all to the end of time, Pentecost.
I could have gazed at that magnificent masterpiece for hours but I simply had to drag myself away back into the world of time and timetables else I would have missed my connection
I had plenty of time to think on the train, and I came to realise for the first time, that whenever we pray, we leave the world of time behind, us and mystically enter into eternity. Christ now endlessly receives and returns in kind, the love He received at the moment of his Glorification. It is here that we receive to the measure of our self-offering, the fruits of his, so that what has already been done in him might be done also in us.