A Thought from the Bishop’s Chapel — Easter Tuesday, April 14

How intriguing is the encounter between the risen Lord and Mary Magdalene on that first Easter Sunday!  She does not recognize Him.   “She thought it was the gardener” (John 20:15).   For this reason, in many older paintings of this incident, our Lord is pictured wearing a petasos, a wide-brimmed straw hat worn by farmers and gardeners in the ancient world.  Regardless of His appearance or perhaps because of it, Mary Magdalene thinks he is someone else and asks, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him” (John 20:15).  To this our Lord speaks her name, “Mary” (John 20:16).  She in turn answers, “Rabbouni” or “teacher” in Hebrew (John 20:16).   The mention of her name alerts her to the identity of the Lord.   And lest we give this identification some artificial meaning it does not have, her rather formal answer, “Teacher,” places the encounter exactly where it should be.  For an explanation of that, we turn to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his superb Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two. 

Following the recognition, our Lord says, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17).  Mary is obviously attempting to touch Him, perhaps even to hold on to Him.  Our Lord asks her to withhold this human response.  The Pope Emeritus writes that while our Lord’s prohibition may surprise us, “When he has ascended to the Father, this will no longer be possible.  But the Lord says the opposite:  Now she cannot touch him or hold him.  The earlier way of relating to the earthly Jesus is no longer possible” (Ignatius Press, 2011, p. 285).   This realization is echoed in St. Paul, when he writes, “[I]f we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer.  So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (II Corinthians 5:16-17).  What we have here is something truly new and marvelous.