‘Hands off!’ said Jesus. ‘Hands off!’ Mary was a bit taken aback. She had just met the risen Lord Jesus and he seemed to be pushing her away.
Actually, he was telling her that from now on he would be elusive. No less present, but in a different way, so that they could flourish.
Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’
It had been wonderful having Jesus with them 24/7 all those years. But here he was, risen from the dead, and life would probably go on as before. Maybe now though he really would be King in Jerusalem, and they would get the top jobs.
How wrong can you get? ‘Hands off’ Jesus said. ‘I will not be with you like that any more.’ And later he explained to his friends how his going away back to heaven was a good thing. Mission accomplished. God had taken on himself the moral responsibility for evil in the world. Now he offers forgiveness and spiritual power to all his followers, to make a difference in this world for themselves. That way they would flourish.
Scary stuff! But growing up is scary.
Do you remember how it felt to move away from your family home for the first time, maybe to go to college or off to a first job? We get homesick. Back in 1066 when I was a new first year student at the Royal Academy of Music, on the first weekend of moving into hall I was asked to play at a Faure Requiem down in Arundel. On the way, the bus drove past my uncle John’s house in Dorking where I knew most of my family were gathered. We sped past. Strange, lonely feelings. From now on I was to make my own life. Do you have a story like that?
But of course, it is a good thing, something we must go through as part of growing up. That way we can flourish.
It is the same for followers of Jesus today. It would be lovely to have him around all the time teaching us and telling us what to do. But we need to grow up spiritually. The good news is that God sends the Holy Spirit to all who ask. He will empower us to live the Christian life in a deeply troubled world. It is a good thing for this to happen, as we become independent spiritual agents rather than dependent children. ‘Hands off!’
A few weeks ago, in the press there was an article about thin places. Thin places? Well, places where somehow the gap between heaven and earth is thin. Places where we get a sudden glimpse of something beyond: maybe in the mountains, by the sea, in a beautiful cathedral. Do you know such places? Have you experienced the sudden glimpse of eternity?
We can have Aha people moments too. Moments when we get a glimpse of their true colours. It is usually when they are under pressure. I remember one Sunday seeing a little girl kneeling at the altar rail in St Mary’s. Her mum had recently had a very late miscarriage and was quietly shedding tears. Her little hand went out and she gently stroked her mum’s face. Aha! A glimpse of that kid’s character.
But then we get glimpses of God in the oddest of people! And usually they have no idea that we do. This is Holy Ground!
A year or so before that first Easter Day, Peter and John had a momentary glimpse of Jesus as he really is. Alone on a mountain he was suddenly transfigured dazzling white, and seen talking with Moses and Elijah. A voice came from Heaven, ‘This is my son’. They looked again and it was just Jesus as usual. But after that glimpse of Jesus as eternal Son of God, life would never be the same again. Aha! Holy ground!
But then this is nothing new. St Thomas Aquinas, a super brainy guy, and author of massive tomes on theology, had a momentary but deeply profound religious experience towards the end of his life. Aquinas wrote that one glimpse is worth a thousand books of study.
‘Hands off!’ says Jesus. ‘I am going away, and it is for your own good.’ Now he offers spiritual power to all his followers to make a difference in this world for themselves. Take it and make it. That way we flourish.
The Lord is risen: he is risen indeed, Alleluia.