Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Love Beyond the Touch of Love

"...the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him... He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:18-21)

Mary of Magdala, whoever you were, whoever you are, you were the first to see the Teacher: first witness to the Risen Christ, and first to be sent, apostle to the Apostles. You, of all people, knew what it meant to cry over the "bread of adversity", to be carried along in the currents of the "water of affliction". But only for awhile, because the Teacher, who was there all the while, opened your eyes to see: "Mary!", "Rabbouni!" -- in an instant, through the intimate bond of a life-changing relationship, in the experience of love.

But what is this he's saying: "Noli me tangere", "Don't touch me, for I've not yet ascended to the Father." Doesn't he love her? Is his body, through some curious new reaction, resistant to human touch? Mary's perplexity is understandable. From our vantage point, centuries later, it wouldn't seem that touch was the problem. Within a few days he'll actually be inviting Thomas the Doubter to explore his hands, feet and side up close and personal. "Oh well," some might conjecture, "the answer is obvious: she's a woman!" Certainly not true. Only look at the Gospel record and see how utterly at ease Jesus is with people, especially women, how a loving touch is a routine part of his manner of ministering to others. Perhaps the Greek translation of "Noli me tangere" conveys Jesus' intent more accurately: "Don't hold on to me, don't cling to me." As beautiful as the human, loving relationship is which they share, there's something much deeper, more enduring, more life-giving.

Jesus immediately sends her with a message for the Apostles: "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." But after going to them, her words are simply "I have seen the Lord." The Teacher has opened her eyes and heart to a larger vision, of relationship, of love, of life. His being raised up by the Father for the salvation of the world ("I, when I am lifted up, will draw all to myself.") in the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, the love shared between God Maker, Lover, and Keeper draws the Risen Jesus back to the Center, like a magnet, so that he might in glory continue what he was originally called to do, and which he described for his followers at their final meal together.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive... You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them...Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them...I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you...Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father...And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."

Mary understands. "I have seen the Lord!"

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