The Second Garden Scene

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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.’”  –Jn 20:17
   
   A man and a woman in the garden.  The Scripture begins the world in the garden, with a man and a woman. Their failure to listen and abide in love leads to fracture and banishment from that garden, with a yearning to return to love and communion in that same garden, voiced by Solomon in his Song of Songs.  John 20 now brings us back to the garden, beginning with fractured loss that gives way to a world of restored communion, not only between man and woman, but with God now in them and they in Him. Add to this the two angels, and you have a snapshot, in time, of that glorious communion which is yet to come. That communion is unveiled through three wonders worth meditating on.
   First, a reversal of the events in Eden takes place in a way predicted by the Song of Songs.  In Eden, the Serpent approaches Eve, while God is hidden from sight.  In the garden of the tomb, Christ is the one who approaches, and the Serpent is banished entirely from the scene.  All obstacles to the meeting of Lover and Beloved are removed.  The woman’s yearning for her Lover is unencumbered by the deception of the Deceiver, and so the Beloved seeks her Lover as desperately as she does in the Song of Songs.  She takes the initiative to find her delight in Him, rather than turning inward upon herself by means of false fruit.  He likewise comes to her who seeks Him, and they share love regained in the garden.  The curse is reversed.
   The fused presence of God in man is the second matter of wonder.  Christ is truly God and truly man, and God is no longer a mere voice or hidden presence that forms a third party. He is now the second Adam, and he is physically present in the garden with Mary, who is a type of Eve and a type of the Church, Christ’s bride.  God communicates directly with her in accordance with His promise to speak with His people face to face, and to wed them to Himself, that His dwelling place will be with them.
   Jesus’ injunction to Mary not to touch Him is interpreted in many ways.  The shallowest is that of Origen and the typical Modernist interpretation of the meeting, namely that Jesus is concerned here about ritual or moral purity.  This defies sound interpretation in light of Scripture as a whole.  Augustine and Chrysostem (with others) have the richest interpretation:  that the Christ is asking her to recognize Him in His fullness.  His full humanity is mind, soul, heart, and body (strength), and must not be subjected merely to the physical.  His full person is no less than God Himself, who created Heaven and Earth, and whose steadfast love for His people endures forever. Two natures, one person, and in this way we are flesh of His flesh, and spirit of His Spirit.
   We live in an age that has reduced humanity to constituent components.  Descartes’ abstraction of the mind initiated the awful dissection of men and women into attributes that can be harnessed for various man-centered purposes.  This objectification of men and women for utilitarian purposes has, as Wordsworth would say it, “murdered to dissect.”  We have lost the wonder for the whole man and whole woman, throwing away the image of God when bodies wrinkle and decay, minds are hampered by the disjunction of ideology and reality, and soul and heart are crushed under the perplexing weight of modern demands. 
   Christ, in His words to Mary, “Do not touch me,” is offering us freedom from our world of drab, materialistic reductionism.  He is resurrecting the glory of the whole person, to be intimately wed to His whole person. He is calling us, as He called Mary, to throw away drab expectation like an old menstrual cloth, and embrace the full, radiant wonder of Himself and all who belong to Him.  This is the essence of communion.  It is knowing, as David said in Psalm 16, that all our good is in all of God, and all our delight is in our brothers and sisters, His adopted children.
    The final wonder unveils itself when we see that the Church’s communion with Christ is not only an embracing of all of Him, but that it is intensely intimate.  His declaration that He has not yet ascended to the Father ought to make us, like Mary, ponder in our hearts what Christ is communicating.
     The Trinity is inseperably and intimately entwined in mutual submission and delight.  How is it, then, that Christ meets with Mary first before going to the Father?  Of course, His divine nature has never been separated from Father and Spirit, not even in the death of His human nature.  But He, in His human nature, has prioritized meeting with His Church in the form of Mary Magdalene, like a lover who earnestly seeks His beloved and must see her before returning home.  He thinks of her first and foremost. 
   This is the great mystery Paul marvels at in his epistle to the Ephesians:  that Christ has joined himself to His church such that we are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone.  Athanasius expressed this another way:  God became man so that man might become God.  The intimate union of Bridegroom and Bride is so close that, in a way, we enter into the Trinity as one enters into a family through marriage. In the end, Christ will present His bride to the Father as a man brings his wife in to live and dine, swap stories, laugh with, hug, and enjoy the company of the family He loves. 
   Thus do we have a communion that is not only a reversal of the curse, and is all of us with all of Him (and all of each other), but is also a communion so intimate that the Trinity accepts us as if between Father, Spirit, and Son.  “Behold, what manner of love the Father has lavished on us!” 

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