The Wedding Dress,
Painted by Frederick Elwell (1870-1958),
Painted in 1911,
Oil on canvas,
© Hull Museum Collections
Jesus withdrew by boat to a lonely place
When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But the people heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick.
When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.’ But they answered ‘All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.’ ‘Bring them here to me’ he said. He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining; twelve baskets full. Those who ate numbered about five thousand men, to say nothing of women and children.
Reflection on the painting
Our Gospel reading today follows on from the events of the beheading of St John the Baptist which we looked at on Saturday. It starts with the words 'When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist's death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves'. Jesus was upset and was grieving. Like any of us at the loss of a dear friend, he needed time and space to process the news: it was impossible for Jesus in his full humanity to live and to love without experiencing grief. So he went off to a lonely place.
At such circumstances, we want to be alone but at the same time have helpful companionship in our aloneness. It was the same with Christ. He went off alone, but was accompanied by the disciples. They joined him in His solitary grief and probably just sat there with him, simply being there for him. I think especially nowadays, when we seem to have a quick problem-solving attitude towards everything, and when grief comes along, the time and space that we need are not always given. Nothing new there, I guess, as we read in our Gospel passage: the crowds came flooding to Christ, cutting short his opportunity to grieve.
Our painting, titled 'The Wedding Dress', by Frederick Elwell, shows a young woman dressed in black, kneeling on the floor of a dark bedroom next to an open chest. On the floor lies her white satin wedding dress and the white shoes she wore (or perhaps planned to wear?) on her wedding day. The woman is obviously grieving deeply, but the context isn't entirely clear. Can we assume that her husband or husband-to-be has died? Perhaps she is putting her wedding dress away, closing a chapter of her life? The bed she shared with her husband is now empty. It is a powerful painting conveying loss and grief...
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Pain and loss…another thing Christ experienced.
Such a poignant picture today. Heartbreaking.
I recall my grandmother telling me her beau asked her to marry him just before he went off to the war (WWI) She said ‘ no – I don’t want to be a grieving widow. If you come back, I’ll marry you.’ He did. She did. My grandfather!
Great story Patricia. Both my grandfathers were fighting against the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. It would have been lovely if they had met!!
Today’s reflection recalls Gabriel Marcel (1883-1973) who said “Life is a mystery to be lived; not a problem to be solved.” Thank you.