by Jamie Myrose
I have often thought that Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the Risen Christ in John 20:11-18 was a rather strange story, most especially in its Easter context. After losing one of her closest friends, Mary has been given a supernatural gift: to see her dead friend once again. Upon recognizing her friend, Mary longs to embrace him, but Christ oddly replies, “noli me tangere;” “Do not cling to me.” For the longest time, I could not understand why Christ would not choose to embrace his friend. Eventually, I came to realize that I was missing the message of the pericope: this is not a story about friends reuniting but instead about the willingness to part from them.
It may be helpful to examine this story in the context of another story we heard earlier during Year B in the Lenten Season: the Transfiguration. In Luke’s account (9:28-36), Peter, James, and John witness Jesus in a new light, literally. Jesus’s clothes “became as bright as a flash of lightning” (v. 29). This is a moment of insight for these three apostles. No one had yet seen Christ in this mode or experienced a foretaste of Christ’s glory to come after the Resurrection. How do the apostles respond? Peter offers, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah (he did not know what he was saying)” (v. 33). Peter only begins to understand what is happening here. He can correctly evaluate the goodness of the event—but he does not recognize that it must come to an end. In this life, the experience of the glory of Christ is temporary; only in the next life will this experience be permanent. But Peter, caught up in the experience, does not want this moment to end. He does not realize the importance of returning to the world, of sharing this experience with others, and tries to hold Jesus and the others in this moment. The same mistake is not made by Mary Magdalene.
On April 2, 2018, James Martin, S.J. tweeted that in the time between meeting Christ and reaching the Apostles, Mary Magdalene constituted the entirety of the Church on Earth. Mary had received the Good News and was brave enough to immediately start evangelizing. In seeing the Risen Christ, Mary also wants to stay in this moment, but Jesus tells her, “noli me tangere.” An essential part of the Good News is that it must be shared with others. If Mary had chosen to remain with Jesus, the joy of Easter would have remained hidden. The disciples would have stayed fearful in the upper room. Mary’s faith in the instruction of Christ begins the evangelization of Church.
In our own lives, it can be easy to stay where we are, to stay in the experiences that give us joy. But sharing our joy does not diminish it; rather it causes our joy to grow, now shared with those whom we love. This is why we are formally dismissed at the end of Mass. It would be easy to remain in the joy of Mass and in communion with Christ, but if we do not go out and spread the Good News, we have missed an integral reason for the celebration. Our Easter joy is not for us alone.
As I prepare to graduate, this message rings true for me all the more. I am sad to leave the place and people that I have called home for the last four years. Yet I know that the joy and love that I have experienced here is not for myself alone. My education has prepared me to be a woman for others, which I cannot do if I never venture out to embrace a world that has not yet heard this message. So sometimes, late at night, when I walk the grounds of this campus, lamenting that graduation is almost upon me, I can hear, almost as a whisper on the wind, the generations of students that came before me saying, “noli me tangere.”