One of the most beautiful representations of the Resurrection, in my view, is Fra Angelico’s painting entitled ‘Noli me tangere’ – a representation of the report in St John’s gospel of Jesus instruction to Mary Magdalen when she met him in the garden early on the first Easter morning – often translated as ‘touch-me-not’.
It felt a bit like a resurrection as we gathered again in church on Sunday for the first time since the middle of March – the Church Family able to meet together again – apart from those who are still shielding or who are extra vulnerable or who could just not get there for one reason or another. It felt incredibly ‘safe’, thanks to the enormous efforts of the wardens and others, who had clearly worked very hard with safety tape and measuring rods. (And who, incidentally, led me into the sin of covetousness with the automatic hand sanitiser dispensers, I could have played all day!)
But it also felt like ‘Noli me tangere’ as we all desperately tried to keep the rules and respect others. Not touching has been one of the hardest parts of Lockdown for many people. Those living alone had to go for weeks without the joy even of a friendly hand on the arm, let alone a good hearty hug – and how dreadful and distressing for those who were unable to reach out a hand to a dying relative. I’m afraid my eight year old grandson and I cheated last week and I had a long ‘Henry Hug’ – it was blissful and I’m glad to report we have both escaped unscathed, but I haven’t confessed to Rob yet! In our modern society the healing value of respectful touching is well recognised – I wonder if these weeks of ‘not touching’ will change things?
Jesus sometimes touched those he healed, but His healing did not depend on touch, it depended on faith. The son of the royal official was healed because the boy’s father believed the word that Jesus had spoken. The withered hand of the man in the synagogue just went back to normal because Jesus said so – and when the centurion knew his servant had been healed – at a distance – Jesus said of him ‘Not even in Israel have I found such faith’.
After weeks of disturbing and distressing times many people feel in need of healing. Certainly, some healing may come in increased social interaction with our family and friends, but for many this will not be an option – so I say ‘Thank God for Jesus’. Jesus’s life and ministry prove that nothing is beyond God’s healing grace. No one is outside the scope of his love and compassion. No one who turns to Him will be sent away. Jesus is the face of the all-encompassing love of God which knows no limits. The only barrier between us and this enormous, generous, overwhelming gift is our faith – and that is in our own hands!