Eucharist – 7th Sunday after Trinity 26th July
Well, here we are at the end of July, and (for some) a cautious, perhaps even tentative, return to worship, in body as well as spirit. If we can just strengthen our minds, and exercise our hearts, for a bit longer yet, we, as a body, the church, will be well on our way to recovery. Please God – in his own good time. So, (special offer this week!) a couple of pictures to brood on (two for the price of one!) but both with one idea. The puzzle is to work out what it is before the bottom of the page.
The first picture is called “The Incredulity of Thomas”, by the artist Caravaggio. I’m always a bit keen on his pictures because of the bold way he uses darkness and light to increase the drama of the moment he portrays. In this one, St Thomas (who you will remember has his special day on 3 July, and for whom one of our churches is named) is not only pointing his finger at the gaping wound in Christ’s body, as if to make sure that it’s there, but poking it right in and prodding about to make sure. Without that (he has declared when the others met Jesus without him) he’s never going to believe it: whereupon, when he is with the others – back in the body of the earliest church of them all, the following week – Jesus is present there with them, and obliges Thomas with a particular, personally focussed, view of his body and blood, the better that he should believe. As a twin, Thomas had, from his very birth, had to establish his particular identity by being just a bit different to someone else – and belongs in the group of believers just as much as the others, but in a particular, other, way. Everyone has a special relationship with Christ, unlike anyone else’s. It’s a bit of a miracle we get together at all!
The second picture, “Noli me tangere”, by Titian, shows St Mary Magdalene (whose day was on 22nd July). The title means “Do not touch me”, if we compare how our English Bibles to the Latin one Titian would know, but maybe (as the ancient Romans put it) “don’t want to touch me”. It’s what Christ says to Mary, who loves him so much, yet thought he was only the gardener, at dawn on Easter Day. Just as Thomas simply has to touch in order to believe, which Christ allows, Mary wants to touch Christ’s flesh (perhaps as she has done before) but is refused. Why?
Well, I think this is about that “special” relationship. Christ honours Thomas for who he is and lets him touch so he may believe, in his own new way: but Mary, being Mary, if she touched, might believe in the same old way, even though everything about Christ’s body and her relationship with it have changed. It isn’t a rejection, let alone a punishment for her sins: rather (I think) an opportunity to discover a love beyond her basic human feelings, and grow. These disciples share a desire to touch: and he, knowing each of them even better than they do, meets not that desire (which is limited by their humanity) but their need: of him, of which they are as yet barely aware. He who knew hunger and thirst on the Cross knows our need of him now, and our desire to touch: but perhaps being set apart for a while in obedience may not only protect our bodies but also nourish our souls