Noli me tangere

“Don’t cling to me,” said the risen Lord to Mary Magdalene, as she reached out to the one she loved, the one she thought she’d lost. His words have a particular poignancy in this strange time, when touch is barred, and love is expressed by staying away; when we are asked to follow the events of Holy Week with our churches closed and Communion denied.

There is an intensity to Jacopo de Cione’s Mary. Her world has been shattered, but now reality is shifting beneath her again. The Lord’s feet are walking away from her, but His expression is tender, loving and reassuring.

And then there is that incongruous garden hoe, set against delicately draped gold and pink fabric. He won’t be weeding with it, but it signals a mystical promise, to cultivate the soil of our hearts.

The way the figures float against the background give the painting a timeless imminence, as if the Lord is speaking to us now. And what He is saying is this: “Do not cling to what you know. Do not seek me where you left me…”

I have thought often of this scene in these last few days, as we at the Jesuit Refugee Service have grappled with how to express our closeness to refugees without putting them in harm’s way. It has involved a radical laying aside of assumptions.

It is easy to miss the Lord in the anxiety of times like these. But He meets us in our confusion and calls us by name.

We are denied the physical experience of Communion, but we trust that the master gardener will tend the Word He has planted in our hearts.

This year there will be no public celebration of Easter, but He is risen nonetheless; and like Mary, He tasks us, still, with sharing the good news.

Taken from The Tablet Easter Issue 11 April 2020

Sarah Teather is director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK

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