“Do Not Cling to Me”
As we near the end of the Paschal season it is worthwhile to look at the account of Mary Magdalene's encounter with the risen Lord in chapter 20 of St John’s Gospel. Mary went to the tomb of Christ and when she first encountered him mistook him for the gardener. But when Christ spoke her name she immediately knew him and ran to him, presumably to cling to his feet and worship him. Christ stopped her, however, saying: "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.”
This gentle rebuke, according to St. John Chrysostom, is of great significance. For it indicates to Mary Magdalene, and to all of us, that we must know and confess Christ now as the risen and glorified Lord.
From the time of the annunciation and his birth of the Mother of God until his burial at the hands of Joseph and Nicodemus and the Myrrhbearing women, Christ had quite literally put himself in the hands of human beings. Some of those who “knew him according to the flesh” loved him and some even recognized his divinity. Others reached out with weak and halting faith to touch him with the hope of healing or deliverance. And still others, of course, hated him, rejected him, and crucified him. Almost all of them, however, related to him as a human among humans. Or, as St Paul says, they knew him “according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5.16).
With the resurrection and glorification of his human nature, however, we must no longer relate to him primarily at a human level. People, during his time in the flesh, were tempted to see in him simply a teacher or a prophet. The confession of the early Church, however, - the proto-Creed, we might say - is the deceptively simple phrase “Jesus is Lord.” Deceptive because contained in these three simple words is the recognition that Jesus of Nazareth, who men and women knew in the flesh, is the risen and exalted Lord of heaven and earth. Once among us in lowliness and weakness, He is now seated with God the Father on the throne of heaven.
As we approach the feast of the Ascension, brothers and sisters, Christ tells us as he told Mary Magdalene, ”Do not cling to me.” We must, in other words, no longer know him simply “according to the flesh,” trying to fit Christ into our worldly ways of understanding. From the first century down to our own day, from false-teachers to so-called theologians and scholars, people have attempted to co-opt Christ and force him to fit their own religious or political or philosophical schemes: good teacher; inspired prophet; enlightened guru; radical revolutionary. And the list goes on. But the confession of the Church is always the same: Jesus is Lord. Or, as the Lord revealed himself to St John in the Apocalypse of the Heavenly Liturgy: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is [ὁ ὢν; the Divine Name] and who was and who is coming, the Almighty [Pantocrator]’” (Revelation 1.8).
We know and confess Christ, brothers and sisters, as St John did - in the Divine Liturgy. And we know him thus as the One who, having come in extreme humility, is in truth He Who Is, the Coming One, who is coming even now – present tense! – in glory. Our hope for glory is in knowing him and confessing him thus, the glorified and risen Lord.
With love in Christ, Fr John