Sunday 5th April 2015, Easter Day
All Age Talk, by Revd Chris Palmer
What’s this sign mean? Do not touch
Where might you find it? In a museum next to some precious artefact
What about if it were posted next to your Easter eggs? That would be annoying
What about if it was round the neck of your favourite person – your mum, or best friend? That would be horrible
But that’s what happens to Mary Magdalen in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus says ‘Do not touch me’
Let’s just remind ourselves of the story It’s one of most tantalizing and exhilarating stories in bible. Mary is sorrowful; her Jesus has died. But at least she can do something – she can care for his body. She comes to the tomb, but it’s not there. She’s looking, trying to cling onto some memories, some relic. But then then instead of his corpse, she hears his voice, ‘Mary’. In a second her sorrow is turned to joy. That’s the best kind of joy, joy that comes out of sorrow. And it runs through her body. ‘Teacher’ she says, and she goes to grasp Jesus.
And Jesus says, ‘Don’t touch me’ – or probably better translated ‘stop clinging to me…’. She wants to cling - she just wants to make sure he doesn’t get away.
But clinging onto Jesus won’t do. Trying to keep Jesus might have been appropriate with his corpse, with his relics. But the risen Jesus won’t be our possession, our ornament. He won’t even be our token of reassurance, a trinket hanging around telling us it’s all OK really. We can’t domesticate Jesus, tame him, treat him as a pet.
It is a constant temptation to treat religion in that way – as a comfort blanket to assuage our insecurities, or our escapist recreation from the harshness or boredom or life, or the drug that anaesthetises us from the reality of life, or like that old photo album that gives us nostalgic memories of a happy past.
But Jesus says, ‘do not cling to me.’ The risen Jesus challenges rather than reassures, makes us face reality rather than escaping it, calls us to live in the present rather than retreating into the past or into some other fix.
From time to time you hear someone calling people to prayer by saying, ‘let’s leave our problems at the door and simply allow our whole attention to rest on God’. And there is some truth in that: if we let our problems distract us from God then we will not encounter grace.
But we can’t do the opposite – let God distract us from our problems. The resurrection of Jesus is not a distraction from death. It is the announcement to the universe that death has no power. It is the announcement to the universe that nothing we fear has any power.
The risen Jesus says, ‘Do not cling to me’. Do not to cling to the vestiges of some familiar world. Rather we must look our fears and disappointments and problems square in the face – and see them transformed by God into hope and life. Of course, we can only do that if we start treating them differently, not avoiding but addressing, not anaesthetising but feeling.
Maybe that means some really practical action we need to take. Pick up the phone and say sorry. Admit our compulsions and get the help we need. Stop wallowing in our resentments and make a list of all that’s good in life and choose gratitude. Refuse to be cowed by fear and challenge the person who is abusing us. Stop avoiding our approaching death but plan for it and welcome it as the gateway to life. Stop wondering why God feels absent and choose to be present to him in prayer each day.
Then we will know the new life, the new hope, the new world that God creates in Jesus. And we will be a part of God’s promised future.