Jesus said to her, “Mariam.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to the Father and your Father, to my God, and your God.”
John 20: 16-17
How is it that our secular culture has never appropriated Easter in the same way as Christmas? Even for us as believers, the celebration of Easter does not carry the same sense of sentiment and nostalgia as Christmas does. Is it perhaps somehow related to the very nature of the Mystery that we celebrate? There is something about Christmas that evokes memories of time past in a way that Easter does not. The resurrection of Jesus is not primarily a memory of a past event, however sacred, but rather a celebration of a present and mysterious reality.
In today’s gospel passage, we see Mary’s journey of faith in the resurrection. She passes from a state of despair and disbelief, to a mistaken notion that she can reclaim the relationship to Jesus which she had before his death, to a totally new experience of the Risen Jesus with its mission to proclaim Jesus’ resurrected presence in the world. The life of Jesus that we celebrate at Easter is a new life into which we are born, our hidden life in God to which He draws us.
To ponder the remarkable incident of today’s gospel is to be reminded of the struggle of our own ongoing spiritual journey. We are always longing to “rediscover” past experiences of our relationship with Jesus and to hold onto them for support and comfort through the struggles of our lives. At those times when we seem to have lost our sense of God’s presence and love, we, as Mary, grasp to hold on to the hope and meaning of those “experiences” of God which upheld us in the past. It is not unlike the ways we keep fruitlessly trying to reproduce the experiences of those childhood Christmases.
Jesus tells Mary, “Do not cling . . . but go.” A few years ago we learned that Mother Theresa of Calcutta experienced during much of her later life an incredible spiritual darkness, living mostly without any discernible consolation of God’s presence. And yet, she said, she was always able to go out and discover Jesus in tending to the suffering and dying poor who surrounded her. The “experience” of God may have been absent, but the face of the Risen Jesus was always present in the needs of those she went out to serve. Easter is not a commemoration of the past. It is rather a present summons, in whatever way our current state of life allows, to “not cling … but go” where we shall see in ever new and challenging ways the reality of the Risen Jesus.
Our journey had advanced—
Our feet were almost come
To that odd Fork in Being’s Road—
Our pace took sudden awe—
Before—were Cities—but Between—
The Forest of the Dead—
Retreat—was out of Hope—
Behind—a Sealed Route—
Eternity’s White Flag—Before—
And God—at every Gate—