Easter. A time to revel in a return to the sensual – indulging in the unctuous pleasure of chocolate, inhaling the scent of new blooms on the air, stroking the gorgeous fluffiness of newborn lambs and chicks. Allow me to linger a moment on the sensual side of the origins of Easter.
I was brought up as an Anglican Christian, and although my own faith is now very much up for debate, the ritual, language and tradition still live with me very strongly and are something from which I derive a lot of spiritual comfort, even if I question much of the doctrine.
So, today, Easter Day, I found myself again listening to what I have concluded is my favourite passage in the Gospel, from John 20. It is to me the most touching and intimate scene – the moment where the risen Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden.
Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. She finds it empty apart from two angels (which she doesn’t apparently recognise as angels). She is, of course, distraught and rushes out. She comes across a man whom she assumes is the gardener. He asks her why she is crying. She explains that the body of her Lord is gone and she asks him if he knows where it is. She doesn’t recognise him as Jesus, but then, in the most tender, human way, he simply says her name: ‘Mary.’
And, as if a shadow has passed from before her eyes, she recognises him. She responds by calling him teacher in Aramaic: ‘Rabboni.’
It is a moment of divine revelation rendered at the most tender human level – addressing someone directly by their given name, and no more. At that first moment, only two words pass between them. And I find both those words – Mary and Rabboni – so delicious to say, and somehow so affirming. They fall from the lips beautifully.
It is also interesting that Jesus chose to reveal himself first to a woman. Throughout the Gospels it is the women who understand the humanity (seeping into the divine) of Jesus the most. And he welcomes that.
It feels like such an intensely private and personal moment between them that I almost feel voyeuristic when hearing or reading it. Dare I say it, but I find it very sensual. The fact that he then tells her not to touch him implies that she is yearning to touch him. She surely reached out to him to confirm his physical presence. Again, achingly intimate, but at the same time, pure. The artistic depictions of this moment mostly have Mary kneeling before Jesus or reaching out for him desperately. I’m not sure I see it like that. I see her remaining upright and quite calm, as a human equal, and able to look into his eyes on his level. But here’s rather a sensual depiction by Alexander Ivanov.
Trust me to focus on the sensual in the Easter story, but that’s perhaps why it continues to capture our hearts and minds. The stories of Passiontide and Easter, when we read about a man suffering the worst physical and mental agony and then returning from this in such a pure, simple way, are still moving, thought-provoking and inspiring, no matter who you believe that man was.