From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us.
I John 1:1-4 (The Message)
In October my wife and I took a week-long vacation to Florence, Italy. It was the experience of a lifetime because it allowed to see first-hand some of the great works of art that I have known only through books and the internet. Over the next few weeks I will be reflecting on some of the experiences that we had while we were in Florence
One of the places we visited was the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. This is the museum where they display many of the original art works that were once found on the façades of the church, baptistery and campanile of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. When time was taking its toll on these great works of the Renaissance, they removed them from the church, crafted replacements, and put the originals within the sheltered walls of the museum so that visitors could view them up close.
One of the things we saw in the museum was a sculpture, Mary in Majesty, by Arnolfo di Cambio (sculpted 1300-1305). The popular name for this sculpture is Madonna with Glass Eyes, and if you look closely you can see her glass eyes in the accompanying photo. Following artistic convention, di Cambio presented Mary as the living throne upon which King Jesus as a three-year-old toddler is seated. Their posture and demeanor are regal and peaceful. Both Mary and Jesus gaze out at us with compassion in their eyes, while Jesus raises his right hand in blessing.
The artist did a great job interpreting a theme that was familiar to me from many other sculptures and paintings. However, what caught my eye on this particular day was a sign by the sculpture that read, “Please touch.”
Now I should note that this wasn’t the original sculpture but a very good replica. However, I have been to many art museums, but never have I been invited to touch a wonderful work of art. Touching is always forbidden.
To be invited to touch such a great work of art was irresistible and so I reached out to cup the cheek of Jesus in my right hand. Gazing into his eyes, his face conformed perfectly to the palm of my hand. It was cool to my touch, but warmth flooded my heart and tears welled up in my eyes. I felt a physical connection with Jesus. It was an epiphany. At that moment, I remembered the words of John’s Gospel “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) The pure physicality of the marble reminded me that Jesus had a tangible body that could be touched.
Throughout his life, Jesus was always touching and being touched. He made healing mud with his own spittle and placed it on the eyes of a blind man. He took the hand of a 12 year old girl who had died suddenly and gently called her back to life. A woman with a flow of blood reached out to touch him and was healed. Another woman anointed his feet with perfume mixed with tears and then gently dried his feet with her hair. After the resurrection, Jesus invited Thomas to put his finger in the nail prints in his hands and to touch the spear wound in his side.
Towards the end of his life, the Apostle John described what it was like for him and the first disciples to see and touch Jesus.
From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us. I John 1:1-4 (The Message)
That day in the Duomo, I too experienced something of Jesus. It wasn’t so much that I touched Jesus; rather, somehow, through this experience, Jesus touched me. And for that I am thankful.
© November 4, 2019 by Rev. Michael A. Weber.
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