Easter Tuesday 2017

Noli me tangere by Fra Angelico
Noli me tangere by Fra Angelico

Today’s gospel, John 20.11-18, is shocking in its intensity. Early in the morning Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Christ in a garden. As always in these Resurrection narratives, there is something about his appearance that prevents immediate recognition; and in any case, Mary is weeping. But she sees more clearly through her tears than many a disciple who turns the cold gaze of reason upon him. Her heart has been washed clean by love, and it is that purity of heart which enables her to recognize her Lord.

Monastic tradition honours the gift of tears. Indeed, praying for compunction of heart is a very necessary part of every novitiate — and it does not end there. Until we realise the enormity of our sinfulness and the wonderful forgiveness of God, we are apt to be harsh in our judgement of others and resistant to grace. There is a beautiful prayer for the gift of tears in the Sarum Missal, which looks back to the experience of the Israelites in the desert:

O Almighty and most merciful God, who caused a fountain of living water to spring forth from a rock for your people in their thirst; draw tears of compunction from our stony hearts that we may weep over our sins, and, by your mercy, deserve to obtain pardon for the same. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

There is also another, more elaborate one, by St Augustine; but no words are really necessary. The ‘sharp dart of longing love’ is all that is required, and Mary Magdalene shows us how richly and warmly the prayer of humble love and faith is answered.

Fra Angelico has captured the moment of blissful meeting between Jesus and Mary — in a garden, in springtime, with only the dark entrance to the tomb to remind us of what went before. Our own meeting with the Risen Christ may be just as unexpected. Let us make sure we are ready for it, for to be surprised by grace is also to be surprised by joy; and like Mary Magdalene, we are not to keep that joy and grace to ourselves but to proclaim it: to be, like her, an apostle of the Resurrection.

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5 thoughts on “Easter Tuesday 2017”

  1. “To be surprised by grace … is to be surprised by joy.” What a wonderful thought to ponder on for this Easter Week. Thank you. Amen.

  2. Dear Sister Catherine, thank you so very much for this short but thoughtful piece so wonderfully embellished by Fra Angelico’s painting. He is one of my favourite early Renaissance artists.

  3. Always struggled with the friends not recognising, then realising who He was. It probably tells us about how we expect to percieve God (and will therefore get it wrong/mixed up) ourselves but like many things remains a mystery to me.

  4. Thank you for this. Something that I really do love about that Fra Angelico image is that beyond the ‘hedge’ or limit of that garden the trees are all the same, nothing special…but within that garden we see many different species – rounded, pointed, splayed. For me they symbolise the richness of everything where Christ is. Even that lawn is full of many different grasses, herbs and flowers….variety and beauty flourish where He is present.

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