Noli me Tangere (Do not touch me) by Fra Angelico

             We have entered a strange new way of existing over the past few weeks.  Self-isolating, social distancing, staying at home – these are some of the phrases that have come to dominate our daily lives as we join together in the struggle to defeat a common enemy called Coronavirus.  It’s not a completely new struggle, though.  Coronavirus may well be a modern, medical term, but what we are engaged in is a struggle against death and against our fear of death.  On this Easter Day we celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ over the powers of death.  We unite ourselves with him in this victory, claiming it for ourselves.  For Christians, living the new life of Easter is about living without having the fear of death totally dominating our lives, for we have confidence in God who has already won for us the victory.

            This doesn’t mean that we don’t take death seriously.  We do, and Christians have been at the forefront of combatting disease and suffering down the centuries.  It is no coincidence that many of the hospitals at the forefront of the battle against Coronavirus have been named after some of the great heroes of our faith – St. Mary, St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew to name but three of the great London Hospitals, some of which were monastic foundations.

            In this morning’s gospel reading there is a strange crossover point between what happens outside the tomb and what we are going through.  ‘Do not touch me!’ says the risen Christ to Mary Magdalene.  It’s as if he is wanting to practice a form of social distancing.  Mary wants to embrace him, but Jesus won’t let her.  Why?  Is it because the risen Christ is in some way different to the Jesus Mary had known before that fateful Friday?  I don’t think so.  Mary recognises him as Jesus precisely when he uses her name, in the way he would have done many times before.  If he were not the same Jesus, she would never have dreamed of trying to touch him.  No.  It’s the same Jesus, but he now cannot be exclusively for one person, or even for one people.  He is now Christ for everyone.  Mary cannot cling on to him physically, just as we cannot.  We have to be able to let him be the risen Christ for everyone.  He promises to live in our hearts and lives wherever we may be.

            Today every Christian is supposed to go to church and receive Holy Communion.  In Britain today, for the first time in many centuries, that simply won’t be possible.  Yet Jesus’ promise still holds firm.  While most of us may not be able to feel and touch and taste Jesus in the blessed sacrament of his body and blood, we still believe that he is with us wherever we are, in our homes and in our community life.  Like Mary Magdalene, we will have to learn to live without touching him for the next few weeks, but remember that his presence is still real to us in the risen life that he promises to share with us, in the breaking open of God’s word, and in the love and care of family, friends and neighbours.

            We are called to a new hope, to live as those who share the resurrection life of Christ, not just in the future, but in the here and now.  I and my colleagues in the clergy may well be in for a busy few weeks doing more funerals than usual and doing our best to care for the bereaved, including those who may not be able to attend a loved one’s burial.  The days ahead may not be easy, but we will continue to proclaim a message of God’s love and his promise of new life that is at the heart of our Easter faith.  We will continue to pray for the sick and the dying, but with a message that death is not the end, but the doorway to a new and richer life promised by God.

            And we will continue to shout our Easter faith, joining with those saints who have gone before us and with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world:

“Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!”