One of the beautiful gospel passages we hear at this time of year is an encounter between Mary of Magdala and the Risen Jesus. Like so many Gospel passages it is both moving and challenging. It is at one and the same time comforting and disturbing. The text I am referring to is found in chapter twenty of St. John, verse eleven to eighteen. The word weeping is repeated several times. Clearly Mary is in great distress. The events of the past week have taken their toll. Now after all that has happened, the Body of Jesus is gone! Then there is the appearance. The point of recognition, the precise moment when she knows that it is Jesus, is when he speaks her name. It is in the familiar intimacy of Jesus saying her name that all doubt melts away. At this moment Mary knows for sure that Jesus, who suffered and died on the Cross, is now risen from the dead. When she gently gasps the word ‘Rabbuni’ we have a confession of faith that contains all the love and devotion of a faithful disciple. In this one word we have the embodiment of the great Christian virtue of hope. Mary of Magdala, a sinner, forgiven much, loved much, is now witnessing to the Risen Lord for us. In addition to these observations I find it very
When I was praying this passage with a view to preaching on it I found myself asking the question do I cling? And if I do, to what, or to whom do I cling? Sometimes we speak of clingy people. At times we feel a person is very needy. Indeed recently I was speaking to a girl who was lamenting the fact that her relatively new boyfriend was proving too clingy, too soon. So do you cling? What do you cling on to? Or perhaps what is more likely, but is a more difficult question for us all to face, to whom do you cling? Sometimes it can be helpful to ask what must it be like to be clung to. Usually this question, if we are inclined to cling, helps us to at least lessen our grip, even a little. If the person we are inclined to cling on to is alive then with good communication this can be talked through and with a little bit of reassurance and confidence building things that often be moved to a less intense space that allows both parties to grow, indeed exist, in a more healthy way. It is helpful that people acknowledge that one of the main reasons we cling on to someone is because we are frightened. The fear usually has some genuine cause. Perhaps we have experienced the loss of someone close to us. This could be through death, or indeed betrayal or simply a less dramatic drifting apart. Whatever the case many of us are fearful of being alone. Will I have enough? Will I cope? What if I get sick? The best way forward with this is to pray a little, get the advice of somebody who knows you but who is not too close, and then in a calm and planned way chat to your loved ones about it.
During the course of my reflection on this Gospel passage I found myself asking the question do I cling to the dead? Do I, in an unhealthy way, cling to my mother who went to God a few years ago? I am reminded of a lady I got to know in my first parish. She was a lovely traveller lady who had suffered much. She had lost several members of her family through suicide, both of her family of origin, her siblings, and also a couple of her own children. When I met her the bereavements had happened in the previous few years and yet she was still going to the cemetery every day. These visits to the graves were not a passing stop by to say a few prayers but rather lengthy periods of genuine weeping and lamenting the absence of the loved one. Now of course I am not suggesting we forget our beloved dead. Of course not. It is right and proper to remember them and most of all to give God thanks for them and to pray for their peace. The signs that point to unhealthy clinging are lengthy periods in the cemetery every week. Another possible unhealthy sign might be an elaborate shrine to the person that is constantly being added to. Perhaps the best test of whether we are clinging in an unhealthy way to the dead is if in our remembrance of them we actually neglect the living. These are not easy questions to answer but perhaps they are important ones to ask. Here’s a good one. Do you neglect to live your life because you are so preoccupied with the dead? Does God want that? Does your beloved want that?
You may well be saying what strange ‘rumblings’ this week, but from time to time we need to ensure that we are Easter people. Remember it did not all end on Good Friday. What a shame after all that Jesus went through if we stayed in darkness. It is so important that we live through Good Friday but equally important that we don’t get stuck on it. As the beautiful hymn reminds us…’we are sons of the morning, we are daughters of day’! If we Christians do not proclaim ‘He is Risen!’ who will?