Sunday, April 24, 2011

Noli Me Tangere


This woodcut, titled Noli Me Tangere, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) has been a longstanding favorite of mine. It depicts the sunrise scene from the Gospel of John where Mary Magdalene meets the risen Jesus in the garden outside of his empty tomb.

Mary turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because 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.'" (John 20:14-17 NRSV).

This story is poignant and full of mystery. Why does Mary not recognize the risen Jesus? Why is she forbidden to touch him?

Dürer shows Mary, kneeling before Jesus, her left hand resting on a jar of oil which she has brought to anoint his corpse. Her right hand reaches to touch him. He extends a nail-pierced hand to forbid her. Balancing the composition, the background features the morning sun dawning over a hillside and a small group (more women come to visit the tomb?) approaching on the garden path.

It is a beautiful picture and it makes me laugh. To explain why Mary mistook the risen Lord for a gardener, Dürer has dressed Jesus in a floppy hat and slung  a garden spade over his left shoulder. Whether the humor was intentional on Dürer's part--and I suspect it was--it is nevertheless appropriate. What better day to enjoy a little holy hilarity than Easter day?

Blessed Easter!

It is because Mary Magdalene was sent to tell Jesus' disciples the good news of his resurrection that she has been called the "Apostle to the Apostles." I found the copy of Dürer's woodut here.

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