Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"What are we to do, my brothers/"

Easter Tuesday: Mass at the school, parish staff meeting, etc. In other words, back to work! Proclaiming the resurrection to middle schoolers at 8:00 in the morning may be as good a metaphor as any for getting back to business after the exhilaration of the Easter Triduum! And today's Gospel of Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) may be as good a place as any to start!

For centuries, this Gospel story was read on Easter Thursday. Whatever motivated its being moved up to Tuesday (and all the other similar shifting of Gospels on these days of Easter week) is unclear, to say the least. But, however that may be, the story of the Risen Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalene works well on any day!

I have always been struck by the way Mary - naturally enough - seems to want to embrace Jesus, but Jesus instead tells her not to hold onto him but to go back to tell the others. To me, this particular scene has always been about mission, as if Jesus were saying to Mary: yes, this is great, but it's not finished yet; there is work still to be done; so go get started on it! 

That strikes me as a very useful way to read this part of the story. In his 2011 Holy Week book, however, Pope Benedict went in a different direction, which I also find very attractive. Benedict begins with our natural surprise at what Jesus says, how obviously opposite his instruction is from what we would expect would make sense under the circumstances. "We would have thought that now, while he is standing before her, she can indeed touch him and hold him. When he has ascended to the Father, this will no longer be possible." Benedict stresses the obvious point that the old way of being, humanly speaking, with Jesus on earth is now over. That leads him to stress how the Risen Jesus must now be accessible in some new way. "This new accessibility presupposes a newness on our part as well." According to Benedict, "If we enter fully into the essence of our Christian life, then we really do touch the Risen Lord."

Developing that further in terms of the Eater season's ongoing Lucan theme of the Risen Christ's presence and action in the Church, it seems to me that one further sense to take form this episode is that the former human way of being with Jesus, which Mary and the other disciples enjoyed during the time of his active ministry, has now been replaced - not just for them but for the far wider world to whom he is now accessible - by life in the Church and his resurrected presence to, with, and in the Church.

Today's reading from Acts (2:36-41) contains the people's famous question to Peter and the 11: "What are we to do, my brothers?" The fact that the people could already address Peter and the 11 as "brothers" even before being baptized highlights the expansiveness of the Risen Christ's action, drawing people to himself and into his Church.

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