Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
“Because I go to the Father”
There is a lyrical and, indeed, a mystical quality to these last three Sundays of Eastertide. It is captured in a recurring refrain: “Because I go to the Father”. The understanding of the Resurrection is concentrated in the simple eloquence of this line. Even more, the understanding of God himself in his self-revelation is concentrated for us in such a line. “Because I go to the Father”.
It is the recurring refrain in what is known as the farewell discourse of Jesus to the disciples in John’s Gospel. It portends the events of the crucifixion but as seen in the greater light of the Resurrection and Ascension; that is to say, the crucifixion as belonging to the glorification of Christ. The phrase suggests, in short, something of the fundamental identity of Jesus Christ and something of his purpose for us. “Because I go to the Father” underscores with even greater intensity that the Word which was in the beginning with God is ever προς τον θεον, that is to say, ever in motion towards God who is now known as the Father, even as Jesus is the Son.
It expresses the dynamic relationship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to which everything else is related. In other words, everything is to be understood in terms of the primacy of this spiritual relationship. And it is the condition of our spiritual freedom and spiritual identity that we enter into this understanding. “Because I go to the Father”, the Holy Spirit will come and teach you and lead you into all truth and, perhaps, most importantly, “will bring to your remembrance all the words which I have spoken to you”. It is the condition of his being with us through his going from us. “A little while and you shall see me no longer”.
And what does it mean for us? It means transformation and joy. We enter into the process of our transformation: to become what we behold in Christ Jesus. There is at once the renewing of our minds in the holy things of God and the increasing attainment of a whole new outlook.
Perhaps, the simple point of this transformation is best illustrated from one of the lessons of the Resurrection itself: the story of Mary Magdalene. She comes early and weeping to the tomb, looking for the dead body of her Lord. She has come for the anointing. Her deep attachment to Christ is focused on the body, on the tangible form of Christ. What is not expected is not looked for and so is not immediately recognised; it is at first simply communicated and then comes the slow dawning of her understanding of what is revealed in the Risen Christ who calls her by name. Her understanding means the transformation of her relationship with Christ. It will no longer be tangible, immediate and sensual, as it were (by which I do not mean sexual!). It will be primarily and profoundly spiritual.
Noli me tangere! Jesus tells her. Do not touch me. Do not hold onto me in the sense of do not be clinging to me physically, sensually, as in “through the senses”. Why? Because of the profounder meaning of his identity as the Son of the Father which he has come to draw us into as well. “For I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. See - his Father is now our Father. Such is the primary orientation of his whole being. The Son is ever towards the Father. And such is the condition of our spiritual fellowship with him and with one another. Notice how Mary is sprung out of the early morning loneliness of her grief and set into motion towards the community of faith. She is the original apostolic bearer of the good news of the Resurrection to the brethren, apostle apostolorum.
But does this mean the repudiation of the sensual, of the body? By no means. It is rather part and parcel of its redemption. Through the sensuality of the body, Christ has made a way for us to the intimacy of the Father, my father and your father. “Because I go to the Father” signals the intimacy of spiritual fellowship.
It is a matter of maturity - of Mary Magdalene’s maturing and ours. It is not a matter of the rejection of the body and the flesh, or even of the forms of sensual knowing - of what is known through the senses. It is rather the process of transformation into a deeper and profounder understanding where what is known is known as known and not just experienced, not just felt.
So much is this not a repudiation of the reality of the body is signified in the Resurrection appearances which go together with Jesus’ appearing to Mary, namely, his appearance to Thomas. You see, to the one who clings to the flesh, he says, “touch me not”; to the one who doubts the flesh, he says, “touch me and see”. He accommodates himself to each to effect in each a transformation of their understanding. Such is the power of the resurrection in us.
It is all for the sake of the greater intimacy: the intimacy of our spiritual identity in Christ. And that is our joy, the joy “no man taketh from you”,
“Because I go to the Father”
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania