It is wonderful to be able to wish you all the blessings of the Season which is at the core and heart of our Faith tradition – Easter. May I especially wish you the joy and hope of the Festival, so much needed at this time when we look forward to the ‘opening up’ of society in a number of ways, with the great aspiration that a shape and form of ‘normality’ will grow from these initial baby steps.
One of the very noticeable new skills developing within society is the ability to read other people’s eyes. Having long been able to flash a look, with the same eyes from which an occasional tear can also escape, I claim no advantage over anyone else in this field of communication, but where I am noticing it most is amongst our very young parishioners, literally babes in arms. Their brand new world is populated by people whose expressive faces are mostly covered, and so – with wonderfully adaptability and dexterity – they have discovered a new vocabulary for communication. Eye contact. Many are already incredibly skilled communicators, despite not being able to utter a word. They can sense the curious hesitant joy of the person peering at them, and they respond with happy beaming faces welcoming another human being into their circle of admirers. Those that we would usually deem to be in need of learning and education have become the teachers and educators of the adult. Our school children are equally talented. Communicating as I do with those on the playground using the traditional method of speech, I now find myself with a budding ability to capture something of what lies within their young hearts and minds as I observe their sparkling, vibrant, life and energy rich glances, looks, and long stares. We should never underestimate the look someone gives to us, or indeed that we offer to others!
One of the Easter stories that I have a particular fondness for is the garden scene of the meeting between the Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene. Despite looking Mary initially fails to see. Her grief, sorrow, and anger at the events of the first Holy Week remove the sight from her eyes. She is in the garden to tend to and mourn the dead, not to encounter the distracting and talkative living. It is only when she hears the person that she believes to be the gardener call her by name – “Mary” (John 20:16) – that she believes the true message of what she has already seen: an empty tomb and two angels seated where the body of Jesus had been. In an attempt to literally hold on to the resurrected Jesus, Mary is told “Do not cling to me” (John 20:17) (“Noli me Tangere”). It is an image portrayed by many artists, with one of the most famous being Titian’s interpretation, housed in the National Gallery in London. In his portrayal of the scene Mary’s posture is that of a woman of the earth, belonging to the natural world and environment, whilst the upright Christ, together with the nearby tree – representing the redemptive wood of the cross – are directed heavenward, towards eternity. However the arch of posture that the Risen Christ forms over Mary, together with the tenderness and concerning look He offers her, reflect His empathy for and protection of humanity in its totality.
Titian “Noli me tangere” – image from National Gallery Website
This image, painted when Titian (1490 – 1576) was very young (c.1514), was the first of the many treasures of the Gallery to be displayed, as singular display-pieces, during the Second World War, under the title Picture of the Month. Responding to a plea written in the Times in January 1942 which stated “because London’s face is scarred and bruised these days, we need more than ever to see beautiful things,” the Gallery invited people to vote for what they would like to see. From that time one object per month was removed from its hiding place of safety in a Welsh slate mine and transported back to London. It wasn’t uncommon for queues to form in order to see a particular month’s solitary exhibit. There is something telling that the first of these was a depiction of a post-resurrection moment. Easter offers us all an invitation to look into the eyes of Christ, just as Mary did. Her response was to discard the trappings of mourning and tell “the disciples that she had seen the Lord.” (John 20:18) This continues to be the mission of ourselves as the Easter-people. The following words are, for me, a lovely reflection.
The Eyes of Jesus.
I imagine the eyes of Jesus
The light of their gazing
Suffused with the seasons:
The shadow of winter,
The mind of spring,
The blues of summer,
The amber of harvest.
A gaze that is perfect sister
To the kindness that dwells
In his beautiful hands.
The eyes of Jesus gaze on us,
Stirring in the heart’s clay
The confidence of seasons
That never lose their way to harvest.
This gaze knows the signature
Of our heartbeat, the first glimmer
From the dawn that dreamed our minds,
The crevices where thoughts grow
Long before the longing in the bone
Sends them towards the mind’s eye,
The artistry of the emptiness
That knows to slow the hunger
Of outside things until they weave
Into the twilight side of the heart,
A gaze full of all that is still future
Looking out for us to glimpse
The jewelled light in winter stone.
Quickening the eyes that look at us
To see through to where words
Are blind to say what we would love,
Forever falling softly on our faces,
His gaze plies the soul with light,
Laying down a luminous layer
Beneath our brief an brittle days
Until the appointed dawn comes
Assured and harvest deft
To unravel the last black knot
And we are back home in the house
That we have never left.
On this Easter morning, let us look again at the lives we have been so generously given and let us discard the useless baggage that we carry – old pains, old habits, old ways of seeing and feeling – and let us have the courage to begin again. Life is very short, and we are no sooner here than it is time to depart again, and we should use to the full the time that we still have. We do not realize all the good we can do. A kind, encouraging word or helping hand can bring many a person through a desert or wilderness experience in their lives. We were not put here to make money or to acquire status or reputation. We were sent here to search for the light of Easter in our hearts, and when we find it we are called upon to give it away with the generosity of Christ Himself.
May the spirit and light of this Easter morning and the special spirit and light of our churches in Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike bless us all, watch over us and protect us on our journey, open us from the darkness into the light of peace and joy and hope and transfiguration.
In the joy and hope of the Easter message be assured of my personal prayerful and affectionate remembrances of yourselves and those you carry with you in your hearts.
As ever, Fr. Nicholas