In John 14 Christ provides reassurance for the disciples who are dismayed by his words about going somewhere they cannot immediately follow. He does so by revising their understanding of dwelling-place and abiding, so that the place of connection is the Father himself, the source of Son and Spirit.
You can sense the Father’s presence behind Brian Whelan’s red-robed Christ, who stands with his back to us, with the Spirit the very medium of crimson connection in the space behind the disciples, which is of the very same red. Georges Rouault’s Christ is within the Father’s presence at the heavenly altar, and the Spirit is implied in the burning halo pulsating behind his head. The San Clemente apse mosaic has a more conventional divine hand at the top of the cross, reaching down as if from the heavenly throne to crown Christ with a diadem, but the Trinitarian unity of Persons is nonetheless embodied. Like these images, John 14 is implicitly Trinitarian, impelling us to see the processions of the Son and the Spirit from the Father.
‘Show us the Father’, asks Philip (John 14:8), and the answer is Christ himself. Only through these images of the Son can we understand the nature of his Father. The movement within John 14 is away from seeing a thing or person as a discrete object towards a closer, more intimate mode of knowledge: a union with the object through the indwelling of the Spirit, which encompasses both of us.
These three artworks can only help us understand this way of being if they transform us from viewers to in-dwellers; if we too can find our place in the many mansions of the divine city. We begin at Whelan’s Last Supper, where in the light of Christ offering his body as bread we find our trajectory and role as his disciples, who are also called to follow the way. The truth of the claims of Jesus to be ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6) is confirmed by his self-offering on the cross.
In Rouault’s Crucifixion, we see Jesus’s return to the Father and the cross as the work of the whole Godhead.
The San Clemente apse mosaics represent the holy city of Revelation and the eschatological fullness of life in the ‘many dwellings’ of John 14. Christ has returned and come to take his friends to himself. This life with Christ is one of participation, so St Mary holds her hands in the orans posture of prayer and St John witnesses to the cross as he did in his Gospel. And within and beside the twining vine-branches, people and creatures of all sorts are active in the new heaven and earth.
This wholeness of vision, knowledge, and participation is only partial in the Farewell Discourse, but already the disciples are like Dante after his glimpse of the Trinity in Paradiso 33, whose ‘desire and will were turned | Like a balanced wheel rotated evenly | by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars’. Dante lived out of that experience so that he then moved to a heavenly rhythm. Similarly, the disciples at the last supper are being taught to live out of a deeper mode of connection with Jesus than seeing him physically, to abide proleptically in the ‘many dwellings’ of Paradise.
14 “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4And you know the way where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. 7If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.
12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. 13Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; 14if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.