Surely in Italy I can be guaranteed some sunshine? You’d think?
It was raining when I touched down in Verona. I kind of felt it was going to. I mean, after this summer, it was a bit much to ask – blue skies and heat on holiday!
It was quite cool and rather windy when I got to Lake Garda.
Still, the Hotel Bellevue San Lorenzo is still amazing. And the food as good as last year (stuffed fillet of salmon trout was last night’s starter – and I was mighty impressed with the gruppa and red mullet main course in a clam sauce; but it was the walnut terrine with mango sauce right at the end that unexpectedly blew me away).
Today started overcast. But the wind has blown much of the cloud away, and a choppy boat ride over to the market at Limone was very pleasant, as was the amaretto ice cream back at Malcesine.
The church in Limone has two enormous paintings over the sides of the altar: an adoration of the magi, and a representation of the woman breaking the alabaster jar of ointment over Jesus’ feet. They are both, of course, pictures of extravagant worship – and therefore very fitting. The wise men travel far, across dangerous political boundaries and with no expectation of gain – their journey is all about giving alone. Their gifts are costly, though the fact of their journey is more costly still. And at its end they simply see a child and worship. Worship is its own end. Then, foreigners as they are, they turn back and find they must go home a different way, but their hearts have been left behind and home now is an elusive concept.
The woman with the ointment is, of course, ridiculed by the male disciples. It’s a waste. It could have been sold - the money could have been given to the poor. But Jesus sees she has poured out her everything upon him – upon his feet, because she dared not look higher, she did not allow herself any greater sight of her Lord, she did not presume herself worthy of any greater honour than the role of a slave, cleaning his feet at a feast. The other men dismiss her; Jesus raises her up – she is no menial maid, but a human being who has done something beautiful, the equal of anyone, a worshipper in spirit and truth, whose life and actions will be sung through the ages as revelatory of the Gospel: we are all free to worship without fear; we are all free to draw near; we are all loved, forgiven, restored, seen and known from the heart outward - all are welcome here.
Interestingly, above this altar are pictures of “outsiders” – three rich gentiles and one poor woman. Is it because they know they are outsiders that they worship so passionately? Is it because they know there is a wonder in the open arms of Jesus that tears flow so freely from their grateful hearts? This church in Limone is right to celebrate outsiders at the centre of its worship space, for the cross is a place where the dividing wall is broken down, the curtain between humanity and God is ripped in two, and where the prejudices we unthinkingly live by must carefully be dismantled.
“Come in, come in,” cry these paintings, “all are welcome here”. How very Jesus. How very Gospel.
(Five minutes later)
Do you know, it is a pleasure to be in the kind of hotel which, when you order a beer, they just bring it to you as you lounge on a sofa, and thoughtfully bring you a bowl of olives and a dish of crisps as well. I just had to share that with you...