The French painter Henri Matisse (1869–1954) is often called a Painter of Paradise. The Dance (La Danse) is a paradisal scene of Eden restored in which four women and a man (freed of accoutrements in this return to innocence) perform a round dance with immense energy and vigour.
The energy of the dance is infectious. The circle is almost but not yet complete—two of the dancers are striving to link up—and the spectator is inevitably caught up in the dynamic of the lower figure’s leap as she tries to grasp the hand of the figure on her left. Each figure looks down and inwards in a self-contained way, but each is also caught up in the joyous and liberating enterprise of the dance. They offer themselves totally—mind, body and spirit—to the common purpose. The break in the circle may also be read as an invitation to the spectator—the figures are not excluding of any outsider.
In John 17:19 Jesus prays for the disciples: ‘I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth’. The purpose of Jesus’s ministry was not to establish an exclusive club but to communicate his identity with God the Father as widely as possible, to invite the whole world to consecrate itself single-mindedly to the truth of his identity, and thus to join in the perichoresis, the dynamic of mutual love, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann (b. 1926) reads an ancient Easter homily as evoking the image of the risen Christ as the ‘leader of the mystic round-dance’ (Moltmann 1985: 307), with the church as the bride who dances with him.
This is a glorious scene, reminding us that glory is infectious: ‘The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one’ (v.22). In this image of diversity caught up in the unity of a common purpose we perhaps discover our own somatic response to God’s glory as we too are invited to shed our accoutrements, to consecrate ourselves to the truth, and to join in the dynamic and lyrical unity of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
Moltmann, Jürgen. 1985. God in Creation: An Ecological Doctrine of Creation, trans. by M. Kohl (London: SCM), citing Pseudo-Hippolytus. Cf. Giuseppe Visonà. 1988. In sanctum Pascha (Milan: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore), pp. 315–16
17 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, 2since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. 4I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; 5and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.
6 “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. 7Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee; 8for I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me. 9I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine; 10all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. 18As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.
20 “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. 25O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. 26I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”