We`ve all been there. It usually happens at Weddings and other gatherings when the family come together- Someone will embarrass that rather gawky teenager with words like: “My how you`ve grown!” Well, yes……
And maybe we also know what it`s like to meet someone we haven`t seen in years- and we hardly recognise them. Initially of course- it`s a matter of whether the years have been kind to the waistline! But after talking for a while- even when we find ourselves saying “we just picked up where we left off”- we know that underneath things will have changed.
What I`m saying is that –notwithstanding the embarrassment we cause to our teenagers- it`s important to acknowledge the change that has happened. Perhaps the best example I can think of is how difficult it can be for that young – or not so young- person to return to the parental home.
I mean, parents who continue to treat their returning son- who has wife and two children in tow- as if he is still `your little boy` have got `issues` haven’t they?
So, we all know how important it is to recognise that our relationships are growing and changing – And this is how it should be. We can`t as it were hold on to other people or `pickle` them, keeping them as those who belong to one particular moment in our lives. They move on- and so do we.
And perhaps you can see the connection I want to make with our Gospel reading this morning.
Today we heard of Mary Magdalene weeping at the empty tomb of Jesus – and the risen Jesus says to her- “Don`t hold on to me`.
There have been a great many attempts to piece together what Mary`s story was and what her relationship with Jesus has been- some of them more worthy than others- But the very least we can say is that her life had literally been turned around by meeting him. And Mary emerges as one of Jesus` most passionate and loyal followers.
So with this in mind it is understandable that her depth of gratitude would shape her relationship with him. Jesus would always be `the one who changed my life` and so on. Her point of reference would always be `what he had done for her`.
But now he says to her: “Do not hold on to me – for I have not yet ascended to the Father..”
What`s going on?
Well I want to suggest that –although it can sound harsh- Jesus is trying to get Mary to see that the relationship they have is growing and changing. Mary now needs to see Jesus on a bigger canvas. And from now on he would be much more than the one who turned her life around.
The clues we have are firstly, in the fact that she didn’t recognise him- but secondly in those words “They have taken away my Lord”. Interestingly using the word `Lord`- is as if to say `I don`t know where God is anymore`.
And that`s it isn`t it? What I`m saying is that for Mary, God and her experience of him was very clearly located in that formative experience of being lifted up and transformed by Jesus. But now she doesn`t recognise him. And Mary has to get to know him all over again- as one who has an agenda bigger than she had realised.
And as well as someone noted for being `devoted` to Jesus- as the story unfolds we hear that she becomes a messenger as well.
So firstly today this picture of Mary weeping outside the tomb is a rich source for our reflection. Those words “Do not hold on to me”- the picture of a relationship evolving and changing is a lesson we all have to learn. And these words are especially poignant for those of us who have lost a loved one. They point us very clearly to that often long and difficult journey where “not holding on” means learning to love them differently.
But when Mary says “they have taken away my Lord”- and when the point is made that she doesn`t recognise Jesus we see how our experience of a changing understanding of one another helps us understand our relationship with Christ.
So I`m suggesting that this story also asks us in what way our picture of God has changed over the years- and in what way he might be saying “don`t hold on to me”.
Some years ago I came across a book with the Title: How Big is your God? * It`s an interesting question. And it reminds us of how easy it is to diminish or domesticate our understanding of him. For example, that picture or understanding of God that we had at Sunday School will simply not sustain an adult life experience.
The picture or understanding of God that we had say twenty years ago at some pivotal moment in our life needs to have moved on.
In one sense this is obvious- but the tragedy is that many of us do become stuck. The relationship – the reflection, the understanding does not grow or develop with the years and many – as a result, write off the way of faith all together.
The point is that if we look closely at Mary`s experience we see how Christ continues to be gracious, compassionate and understanding. He is still the one who has touched us at those significant times in life- but there is always more.
And it is often at moments of grief or loss or crisis – moments when we say `I don`t know where God is any more` that we`re actually hearing his call to move on in faith. These moments, if we stay with them and see them for what they are- are not so much the `death` of faith but a sign of faith maturing and our vision of the Lord `enlarging`.
This is the message Mary has to carry. She is told: `go and tell my brothers I am ascending to my Father and your Father- to my God and your God`.
Notice again- the message is about Christ `ascending`- assuming a bigger position- being seen and understood differently. So, it seems everyone is being called to have a bigger picture of God. And notice again- Mary doesn`t go off to the ends of the earth- she goes first to the faithful- the `brothers`- as they`re referred to.
And why is this significant? Well I return to that Book Title: How Big is your God? My experience for what it`s worth, is that a lot of discussion about God is closed down because people think they already know what we mean by that word.
And so part of our calling in our day is to re-open the discussion. To help people have an enlarged vision of God. To help people see that God is not who they thought he was. To help them hear him calling their name.
Our distinctive contribution of course is to say that you begin to get to know this God by looking at Christ. And we deliberately say `begin` because this is what Mary discovered.
Jesus says “Don`t hold on to me” Why? Because the God who had so graciously turned her life around was now leading her into much, much more.
And the God who has so graciously dealt with you (and me) is now leading us into much, much more
*`How Big is Your God` Paul Coutinho SJ (Loyola Press 2007)