To go deeper into the spirit

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6 Jul 2020

Our faith calls us to be different – to truly match good works with a belief in the work of the Spirit within us.

As people of faith, in the Christian tradition, we are called to be resurrected people but, in our parish far more people attend the Good Friday celebrations than the whole Triduum, or the Easter Sunday celebration of
the resurrection.

It seems that we have been enculturated into dwelling on the price of our sinfulness instead of the power of the resurrection given to us through our baptism.

In the letter of James there is an emphasis on what we believe and what we do: ‘. . . faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead’ (2:17). This is true because we are called to be something different, not just someone who does random acts of kindness but someone who matches the effort with a belief in the work of the Spirit within us.

Encounter with the risen Christ

This powerful reality is beautifully expressed in John 20:11-18. This Gospel is proclaimed on Easter Tuesday and gives us the story of Mary Magdalene encountering the risen Christ in the garden.

In the previous verses we hear how Mary has seen the tomb empty and has run to get Peter and the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ (John 20:2).

When they witness to the empty tomb, the one who Jesus loved saw and believed, but he and Peter did not yet understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead, and so they went back home.

Mary remained weeping outside the tomb and when she looked into the empty tomb there were two angels who asked her why she is weeping; she said that the body of her Lord has been taken and she does not know where it is. After she said this, she saw a man who she did not recognise and since they were in a garden, she presumed that it was a gardener. He too asks her why she is weeping and for whom she is looking. She replies, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away’ (John 20:15).

Called by name

Christ, in his unrecognisable risen state, said to her ‘Mary!’ He called her by name and she immediately recognised him. Her life was at this moment changed, her understanding completely changed and she reached out to him and declared in Hebrew ‘Rabbouni!’ (John 20:16).

Jesus’ response is to tell her not to cling to him (Μή μου ἅπτου) because he has not yet ascended to his Father. The Latin translation of the Greek has often been presented as ‘noli me tangere’, do not touch me. It is not about touching in the purely physical sense, it is about the relationship between them. She will no longer hold on to him as to a Master, but rather she has been raised to a greater relationship. She has been called to live a deeper life through the Spirit of the resurrected Christ.

The extraordinary change is that Christ clearly told her that it is his Father and her Father, his God and her God and she is to go and tell this to his brothers. The way to the Father has now been restored through the power of the resurrection and Mary is sent as an apostle to the apostles.

In Christian art this is one of the popular stories and has been named ‘Noli me tangere’. In the middle ages there was a cult of Mary Magdalene as the perfect penitent since it was erroneously supposed that she was a prostitute and must have repented perfectly to be chosen to be the first to see the Risen Christ.

This was an error stemming from a sermon from Gregory the Great around 591 where he conflated several figures particularly the woman in Luke 7 who was a ‘public sinner’ (Luke 7:36-50). This view of Mary of Magdala was only recently confirmed as error and her day, 22 July, was given the distinction of ‘feast’ in the Roman liturgical calendar. This has had strong ramifications for images that we see about this Gospel.

Telling the story differently

A 21st century image from St John’s Bible, Gospels and Acts tells the story differently. The action is in a splendid garden lit by the early dawn and we do not see the face of the Risen Christ but we can see Mary through him, so his risen nature is changed.

He wears royal purple as his kingship is fully evident. Mary’s face is red (reflecting the Risen Christ), ecstatic and joyful, not at all penitential in her stance. Red is the colour of divine love, because God so loved the world that God became flesh. As Mary reaches out to touch him her hand is translucent, a different reality is in place.

In the background is the tomb flanked by two angels who had told Mary that he had risen. There are two trees in the garden; the tree of knowledge and the tree of life, both linking the change in the relationship of God to the world. Where once the relationship was broken in the Garden of Eden, in the new Eden everything in creation is restored.
The crosses on the left refer to Golgotha and are edged in gold but this is now history, the resurrection has changed everything.

Listen more deeply

As we contemplate this Gospel passage and Donald Jackson’s artwork, we can go deeper into our own call.

Each of us is called at our Baptism but also often called to conversion throughout our lives. We are called to listen more deeply to Scripture, to be resurrected people in our community, to deepen our understanding what the redemptive act of Christ means for us in our lives and then to act.

Dr Angela McCarthy is a senior lecturer in theology at The University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle campus.

This article first appeared in Madonna magazine Winter 2020 edition. The feast day for St Mary of Magdalene is 22 July.

Image: Resurrection, Donald Jackson, © 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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