Minister's Monthly Letter
“Today it is time”
There is a poem that, for the last five or six years, I have returned to every year as we approach Easter. This year it is the opening line, quoted above, that has been at play in my imagination.
One day in 1467 the artist Pierro Della Francesca was commissioned to paint a fresco, where paint is applied to damp plaster to give a particular effect when the plaster is dry. The painting was to be in a building in Sansepolcro a village nestling in a valley of Tuscany in northern Italy. The theme of the painting was to be the resurrection of Christ. On a particular day Pierro set to work to capture the meaning of Easter morning.
In the fresco Jesus steps from the tomb, one foot on the rim and carrying a banner. Four guards are asleep on the ground in front of the tomb. Tradition says that one of them is a portrait of Pierro himself – posing the question “is he/are we asleep”. If humans are asleep the landscape has already started to respond to the risen one. In the background the trees on the right are green and flourishing - those on the left bare as yet untouched by resurrection light.
One day in 1925 the author Aldous Huxley visited Sansepolcro during a visit to Italy. He was a clever man and had seen many paintings but in a collection of essays called “Along the Road” he described his visit and said that the fresco was the greatest painting in the world”
One day in 1944 during the Allied advance through Italy a British officer called Tony Clarke was in charge of an artillery unit. He had orders to bombard Sansepolcro from the hills above the town before the infantry entered. Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered reading Huxley’s article and pondered the burden of destroying “the greatest painting in the world”. He carefully studied the scene before him through his binoculars and, concluding the enemy had fled and risking a court martial, his unit did not fire. Fortunately he had read the scene correctly, the town was taken and, after the war, he went on to found a well-known bookshop in Cape Town (Clarke’s) which is still there though he died in 1980. There is a street in Sansepolcro named in his honour.
One day in 2008 Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, visited Sansepolcro and saw the fresco. The result was a poem with the name and location of the painting as its title. The poem that begins “Today it is time….”
One day in April 2015 – the 5th to be precise – we will celebrate Easter. The glory, mystery and promise of the risen Christ. Until then, to quote the final lines of the poem “We wait, paralysed as if in dreams, for his spring”.
Rev Bob Sneddon
Resurrection :Borgo San Sepolcro
Today it is time. Warm enough, finally
to ease the lids apart, the wax lips of a breaking bud
defeated by the steady push, hour after hour,
opening to show wet and dark, a tongue exploring,
an eye shrinking against the dawn. Light
like a fishing line draws its catch straight up,
then slackens for a second. The flat foot drops,
the shoulders sags. Here is the world again, well-known,
the dawn greeted in snoring dreams of a familiar
winter everyone prefers. So the black eyes
fixed half-open, start to search, ravenous,
imperative, they look for pits, for hollows where
their flood can be decanted, look
for rooms ready for commandeering, ready
to be defeated by the push, the green implacable
rising. So he pauses, gathering the strength
in his flat foot, as the perspective buckles under him,
and the dreamers lean dangerously inwards. Contained,
exhausted, hungry, death running off his limbs like drops
from a shower, gathering himself. We wait,
paralysed as if in dreams, for his spring.