"The Resurrection" by Paolo della Francesca is housed in the museum of his home town, Sansepolcro in Tuscany. It is a striking painting, the figures almost life size, Christ emergent from his tomb, three guards asleep, a fourth covers his eyes, as if knowing what is unfolding and unable to look.
Being unable to look seems an appropriate response to the unfolding moment when death is rolled back into its place as a transient moment between life and Life and sin, the capacity to miss the mark of our being, is no more. Humanity is on target, once more, the divine image being realised as divine likeness, all being restored to one.
That is the gift of it, the freedom of it, yet we slumber on or refuse to look and receive.
Today I was having a conversation about the tendency of theologians to make the simple, complex, it is a comforting response to the simplicity of the Gospel that rather than receive the gift and practice the life it offers, we first examine it, seek to explain it. It is rather as if at Christmas before we accept a present, we open it and carefully see if it meets our expectations, and if not hand it back! We are all guilty of this 'theology' of covering with our hands the gift of what is to be looked at. Rather than cleanse the doors of perception, we don thicker, darker glasses.
I often wonder what it is that would make me more receptive to that gift and as I walked home, wind draggled and rained upon, I found myself with a phrase of the poet, Kathleen Raine, rattling around my brain: "a face too merciful for my own devil peopled soul to bear". It is from her extraordinary cycle of poems, "On a Deserted Shore", written on the death of her more than friend, Gavin Maxwell, from whom she had become estranged. She is contemplating the passage from life through death and anticipating who she may find there.
It circled back, in my mind, to this image of Christ who seems simply to accept everything in a watchful forgiveness and with extraordinary, penetrating stability. There is nothing to do but to bear the image, knowing that no amount of coalesced devils, in fact, can ultimately obscure you from beholding that face. The face of the Other who is your own face. How many of us have practiced that exercise of looking into another's face, awkwardly at first, until slowly we begin to discover a binding friendliness and empathy, often in spite of ourselves?
That brings us back to Easter whose central message is that nothing, not even death, can destroy being beheld by the face that is forgiveness - now 'simply' take away your hands or wake up and look.