Sunday, May 17, 2009

Noli me tangere

William Etty 1787-1849
Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection (Noli me tangere) exhibited 1834
Oil on canvas
support: 407 x 667 mm
Tate Britain, London

“Jesus foretold his ascension (or return to the Father) by speaking of it to Mary Magdalene and the disciples during the paschal and pre-paschal days.

On meeting Mary Magdalene after the resurrection Jesus said to her: "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (Jn 20:17).

On several occasions during the paschal period Jesus made that same announcement to his disciples. ...

If we examine briefly the content of the announcements quoted, we note especially that the ascension into heaven was the final stage of the earthly pilgrimage of Christ, Son of God, of one being with the Father, who had become man for our salvation.

However, this final stage remains closely linked with the first, namely, the "descent from heaven" in the Incarnation. Christ "came from the Father" (Jn 16:28) into the world through the Incarnation. Now, after the conclusion of his mission, "he leaves the world and goes to the Father" (cf. Jn 16:28).

His "ascent" is as unique as his "descent." Only he who came from the Father in the manner of Christ can return to the Father in like manner. Jesus himself makes that clear in his conversation with Nicodemus: "No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (Jn 3:13).

Only he and no one else has the divine power and the right "to ascend into heaven." Left to ourselves and our own resources we cannot gain access to the "Father's house" (Jn 14:2), to a sharing in the life and happiness of God.

Only Christ can open the way to the Father: he, the Son who "descended from heaven," who "came from the Father" for this very purpose. Here we have a first result of our analysis: the ascension is included in the mystery of the Incarnation as its concluding moment.”

From the Speech of Pope John Paul II at a General Audience on 5th April 1989