John 20:11-18 Easter 2020
Reflection by The Rt Rev and Rt Hon Sarah Mullally Bishop of London
Alleluia! Christ has Risen
He has risen indeed. Alleluia!
Some years ago, I needed to have a small day case operation. Having spent almost 3 decades in the NHS you may have expected me to be claim and confident, I wasn’t. I had never been a patient and I had never had an anaesthetic. And maybe, I knew just enough to know what could go wrong and things do go wrong – although I had no reason to think this on this occasion.
As I lay on the operating table waiting to be put to sleep the one thing, I longed for was for someone – anyone just to hold my hand. I know that it wouldn’t have made things better or reduced the risk but it would have told me that I wasn’t alone.
I was encouraged to hear last week both the government’s Chief Nursing Officer and the head of the Royal College of Nursing telling us that nurses won’t let patients die alone.
Throughout the bible there is recognition of the importance of touch to human beings – both pleasure and reassurance and yes, the pain it can bring.
The combination of kiss and embrace is not unfamiliar in the Christian tradition. It is used in the prophetic statement about the union of the earth and heaven. The psalmist tells us’ Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other’ (Psalm 85.10)
Here the divine and the human touch. Easter reminds us that God has touched the world in Jesus Christ.
Touch is central to Jesus relationships. Filled with compassion Jesus reached out his hand and touched the leper, a women who has suffered a great deal with a bleeding disorder, came up behind Jesus and touched his cloak, Jesus took Jiraus’ daughter by the hand and said to their little girl get up, he took the man who could not speak or talk and put his figures into his mouth, he took the blind man by the hand and put his hands on him, people brought little children to him for him to touch, the betrayer kissed him, and there on the road to Emmaus in the breaking of bread the touch of the presence of Jesus made their hearts burn.
Touch brings reconciliation, reconciliation to a community and to God, it brings restoration of relationships and healing.
Which is why we are in grief at the lose of our freedom to touch. It is counterculture not to touch, to the mother who wants to hug a child in pain or how we welcome with the clasp of hands or an embrace. Touch my not make things better but it does tell us we are not alone.
John’s gospel tells us that in the garden that first Easter morning Mary is in the midst of grief and the darkness of death and Jesus tells Mary ‘do not touch me’ – ‘do not to hold on to me’. This feels like a hard ban and it has become the inspirations for a number of pictures not least Titian Noli me Tangere (Touch me not).
In Titian’s picture Mary knees in humility, with the oil in one hand, a reminder of her anointing of him with oil poured out, for Mary had held Jesus by his feet and she worshiped him (Matthew 28:9) Mary’s other hand is seeking to touch Jesus. But the shroud lies between Jesus and Mary like a veil which hides the living from those who have died. A barrier to the touch which Mary so longs for.
Do not touch or hold me is explained by Jesus Christ. ‘for I am not yet ascended to my father to my God and your God’. “I have not yet sent you The Spirit, who will reveal to you who I really am.”
Mary was holding on to who she thought Jesus was with all her misconceptions. It had been Mary’s sad searching for Jesus’ body that had led her to mistake him for a gardener. The picture portrays the tension between the love of Mary for Jesus and his love for her and Jesus’ desire to lead her into deeper truths.
It was only once Jesus had ascended and the Spirit had come that Mary would understand of who Jesus really was.
In the place that we stand this Easter Sunday we find ourselves in a place of grief, grief for those who have died and are suffering, grief for what could have been, grief for the loss of many things which defines us, grief for the loss of what maybe we thought the church was and is. Hear the words of Jesus do not hold onto me for he longs to lead us into deeper truths.
And although Mary like us cannot touch Jesus, she in her grief glimpsed the hope that he spoke of and Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”.
In a sense we have no more or less than Mary for we like her have glimpsed the hopes of Easter – death does not have the last word. The promise of a new creation without pain and suffering.
Now hope is not blind optimism. It is with hope that we can with eyes open to see the suffering and yet believe in the future.
Let us this Easter day not deny our grief, be open to let go of who we think Jesus Christ is for us and allow the spirit to lead us into a deeper truth.
Let us like Mary go a tell that we have seen the Lord and by the hope we have be motivated to touch the lives of others maybe not physically but by phoning people, staying at home, giving to the food backs and by praying.
Let us know that the message of Easter is that God has touched the world and that we are not alone.
Alleluia! Christ has Risen!
He has risen indeed. Alleluia!