A message from Father Nick 57

Hands of God and Adam, from the Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Rome

“Do not cling to me…”

It is one of the most affecting passages of John’s gospel. Mary Magdalene, who has stayed with her Lord in life and death, has found his tomb empty on Easter Sunday morning. She remains behind when all his other friends have gone and as she weeps alone, she sees him standing before her. At first, she assumes him to be the gardener – only when he speaks her name does she recognise him. Her spontaneous reaction moves him to say, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father…” Mary’s experience is a message for the world, deeply intimate and yet utterly transforming – and very different from Jesus’ encounter with Thomas.

“Do not cling to me…” The sense of touch has always been a necessary part of our humanity, but after the resurrection it will take on a new sacramental meaning. This is what Jesus seems to be anticipating in his words to Mary. Touch also has a profoundly female resonance, which the great Michelangelo conveys in a wonderful way. We have already glimpsed his famous image of creation in the Sistine Chapel, where the creator stretches out his right arm and gazes yearningly at his beautiful creature Adam – their fingers almost but not quite touching as God sees all the pain and confusion that will come with Adam’s independence. Meanwhile, held closely and lovingly in God’s left arm (and clinging very tightly to its protection!), is his other, equally beautiful creature, Eve – a being who is truly in touch with her maker.

Detail of God and Eve from Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Rome

Jesus offers the same reassuring arm in his constant healing of creation. And in a special way he brings that healing to our persistent wounds of gender division. Women trust him – they come to him and touch him, knowing that their action will not be misunderstood. The woman with the haemorrhage, the woman who washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair, the women who come with Mary Magdalene to anoint his body… In an age of “Me Too”, it is hugely restorative to find the dignity imparted by his own respect for them and by his utterly unselfish love.

And it is linked with something even more profound. We have seen once before how Fra Angelico’s painting of the Angel Gabriel announcing the Good News to Mary of Nazareth can be almost mirrored by his painting of Jesus and Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday morning. Each occasion is a “first”. Mary Magdalene is the first of his friends to see the risen Lord, just as Mary of Nazareth is the first person to receive the message of his conception and birth. The meeting at the tomb confers on Mary Magdalene a unique distinction. She is told that she must not cling to her Lord “because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find my brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

This “Annunciation” of her Lord’s new Easter life, given to Mary Magdalene to share, will always be her special prerogative, preserved in a title no one else can claim: “The apostle to the apostles.”

Noli me Tangere, 1947, Jozef Sekalski, National Galleries Scotland
©The Estate of the Artist