Inspiring Paintings: “Do not cling to me”

Inspiring Paintings: “Do not cling to me”

This week, many have been commemmorating the figure of Mary Magdalene, who features in this beautiful painting by Titian.

I have to confess to having mixed feelings about it. My initial response was to see Christ’s act of withdrawing as rather cold. But this was based on a misunderstanding.

Before I take this further, take a moment to enjoy the beautiful colours of the painting: the warmth of the sky, the luscious vegetation with the symbolic flock of sheep just behind Jesus, the golden sunlight reflecting both off the clouds and off Christ’s body (also symbolic, of Christ’s divinity), the beautiful colours of Mary’s hair and her cloak.

On her side of the painting, there is a lot of brown: a plain brown village, on a rather plain brown hill, and she kneels on a pale brown patch of grounds. This is the plainness of ordinary life without a spirituality grounded in the magnificence of God.

Mary reaches from the brown of everyday life into the luscious richness of the new life that Christ inhabits in his new risen form. Even the tree behind her sways into Jesus’ side of the painting, as if it also longs for this new life.

Jesus holds a tool to remind us that Mary doesn’t at first recognise him. She thinks he is the gardener at first. So this is the moment when she suddenly does, and she reaches out to “cling” to him.

Who would not want to do so to a loved one whom one has lost to death?

And back to the message – “Do not cling to me”. She must face her own transformation as a responsible adult. She cannot childishly cling to Christ in the hope that he will make everything better. She must learn – she is already starting to – that new life is the other side of pain, suffering and death. There is no short cut to resurrection.

Resurrection and new life gleam like golden light. We reach towards that light with patience, longing, some pain as well, and hope.

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