" Touch Me - Touch Me Not"
Rev. Kit Billings
April 3, 2005
Luke 24:36-45; John 20:10-18
Doctrinal quote: The Lord's conjunction with man does not exist except in love and charity, for the Lord is love itself and mercy. He wills to save everyone and by His mighty power to draw them towards heaven, that is, towards Himself. The Lord desires to be fully conjoined with humans. It is impossible for anybody to be joined to the Lord except by means of that which He Himself is, that is, except by acting like Him, or becoming one with Him - that is to say, by loving the Lord in return, and loving the neighbor as oneself. This constitutes the very essence of a covenant. When conjunction results from this, it quite plainly follows that the Lord is present.
~ Heavenly Secrets 1038
So much can be discussed in these great Scripture lessons before us this morning, but I would like to limit my remarks with you to this subject: that there is significance in these early resurrection accounts of us hearing our risen, glorified Lord saying two opposite things to His disciples, “touch me and see” and “touch me not.” The deeper meaning of this comes forth once we begin to examine the spiritual meaning of touch.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus after His resurrection and glorification advised His followers to take hold of Him in the Lukan version and then in John the Lord commanded Mary to touch Him not. What do these seemingly opposite attitudes from the Lord mean? What is going on here?
The teachings of our church help us understand why, given what we find what happened whenever Jesus would have physical contact with anyone—the Gospel record reveals what I am about to share. Everything natural has its spiritual correspondence, and Christ was immensely concerned with the inner meaning of what He said and did. Thus, the spiritual meaning of “touch” or “touching” held deep meaning, especially when associated with Jesus Christ in His fully glorified and divine state. In short, as our theology explains, “by the ‘laying on of hands’ by the Lord, and also by His ‘touching,’ is here signified the communication and reception of Divine power….” (AC 10023) In the spiritual depth of life, which is seen most remarkably in what happens in the spiritual world after we physically die, whenever a spirit or angel touches another there is something deep and special that happens—that is, there is a deep communication of each person’s more inward feelings and thoughts, and also a spiritual depth of connection and mutual sharing of life. The Lord understood these spiritual truths. We read throughout the Gospels of the kinds of miracles and spiritual communication that happened when Christ laid His hands on people and touched them or when someone else would reach out and touch the Lord.
We read for example: “A woman touching the garment of Jesus was healed, and immediately her bleeding stopped. ‘Who touched Me?’ Jesus asked. ‘Someone touched Me; for I know that power has gone out from Me.” (Lk. 8:44,46) And also: “The whole crowd sought to touch Jesus, because power went forth from Him, and healed all.” (Lk. 6:19) And lastly, “Jesus took babes upon His arms, and put His hands upon them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16) One gets the sense here that whenever we finite humans get very close to the Lord and have any sort of contact with Him, there is a kind of powerful energy and love exchange. So the question now becomes, would there ever be a state of mind that the Lord’s followers might enter into that would make it important for them not to get into physical contact with Him, especially once Jesus had entered into His fully glorified condition?
During the Lord’s death and eventual resurrection on the third day, the disciples were going through a lot inside. Deep down they loved their Master very much, and yet they struggled at times with doubt, confusion, uncertainty, and fear—the same kinds of spiritual and psychological struggles we often encounter within ourselves. Christ understood this about His followers and respected their ambivalence, which is why He was not always wanting to allow Mary and the others to touch Him. Just as He did not force others to believe in Him by taking Himself down off the cross, our Lord God did not want to force those closest to Him to be deeply conjoined with Him. Journeying with Jesus the Christ (or rather, “God with us”) will bring us into contact with many uncertainties about who He really is, as well as whether or not we feel up to the challenge of living in deep connection with the Lord and His quality of love, especially when this love draws us into the inevitable direction of putting it into action in our daily lives with our fellow human beings.
An Old Testament character who exemplifies this struggle is Jonah. When God commanded him to go to Nineveh and preach God’s Word to the people of that city, Jonah’s prejudice got in the way, which is what ultimately landed Jonah in the belly of that great fish. Similarly, it can be easy for most of us to have certain forms of prejudice and serious dislike for people who are different than we are. God’s Word, however, inspires us to see all people as our brothers and sisters, as fellow children of God, and to essentially care about everyone. Even beyond this, the Lord revealed in His value about being willing to have physical contact with every sort of person imaginable illustrates the importance of more deeply spiritual people needing to have a willingness to feel open and vulnerable to potentially anyone. It’s the difference between essentially choosing to be walled off and closed toward your fellow men and women, teenagers or children, or fundamentally open to them…willing to connect. Martin Buber, the renowned Jewish scholar of the 20th century, described the difference between these two opposite attitudes; it’s an issue, he believed, between seeing myself and others as essentially separate, or essentially interwoven…joined. He described the two most basic forms of how we relate with our world and the people in it: we may see ourselves and others as having either “I-it” relationships or “I-thou” relationships. It is impossible not to have both forms of living going on in our lives—but the vital question is here, which form of relating are we intentionally pursuing in life, which one do we want the most?
“I-it” relationships are like those that doctors need to have with their patients, or when a scientist is studying something to gain knowledge about it—these typify our human tendency to be in relationship with others wanting them to be at arms length, removing an essential intimacy and vulnerability. However, it is possible, Buber wrote, for us to enter more deeply into an interaction, without a lot of pre-conceived notions, wearing of masks, and having much pretense. The bonds that then tend to happen enlarge both persons and each person responds by trying to enhance the other one within the conversation or connection. Buber maintained that it is possible to have an “I-Thou” relationship with the world and the objects in it as well. Art, music, poetry are all possible media for such responses in which true dialogue can take place.
Buber’s research also reveals that we can have most of one or the other of these two basic forms of relating with God, and at times both will be necessary for us to engage. And so, as Christians, there will typically be both kinds of needs within us too—sometimes needing more of an “I-it” relationship with Christ, while others needing an “I-thou” connection.
The Lord came into this world to save us. That is, to redeem us spiritually and restore our spiritual freedom, and also to gradually over time conjoin with us in our spiritual affections and thinking in Him, which leads us into actions that reflect the Divine in life. This fleshes out our once dry, spiritual bones, and makes them breathe with life again! It draws us unto God, through the power we receive in our will (which comes from Him really) to re-join with the Lord. New Church doctrine has it right: “The Lord desires to be fully conjoined with humans. It is impossible for anybody to be joined to the Lord except by means of that which He Himself is, that is, except by acting like Him, or becoming one with Him -- that is to say, by loving the Lord in return, and loving the neighbor as oneself. This constitutes the very essence of a covenant.” This develops within us our true and God-centered humanity, for which we were all born in the first place. However, drawing nearer to God tends to excite and wake up many inherited evil inclinations within us, which often throws us into spiritual temptation battles and struggles. And Jesus our Lord is ever so aware of this.
The Lord, to be sure, understood the deeper meaning and significance of the Old Testament. That is, that it was a reflection of the spiritual journey that Jesus would undergo, as well as every one of us who walks a similar kind of path as Jesus did, yet different in that Jesus gradually became fully Divine while we are transformed by the Divine [as an aside, you and I will always be finite, created by God. Christ’s soul was God, which gradually glorified everything finite in Him from His human mother, making His humanity Divine]. So you see, the Lord understood that just as the Psalms move in and out of spiritual highs, plateaus and lows, so do you and I. And it is important that we do this interior fluctuation of our inner state. It is vital that we encounter our weaknesses and doubts and fears of living with and within the Spirit of our Lord Jesus, who is very much with us every day. Psalm 143 speaks so incredibly well of these realities, which were clearly going through the hearts and minds of the disciples also. As we read earlier in Psalm 143: “…my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is distressed.”
Whenever human beings are encountering Christ risen and glorified, we will enter periods of deeply wanting to be joined with Him, and so the Lord says to us also, “Touch me here, for no spirit has flesh and bones as I have.” And then, inevitably, we shall experience opposite states of being, when we are uncertain or are confused by the Divine love that the Lord wants to send through us and then back toward Him and our fellow neighbor. The Lord’s resurrection happened around life’s darkest and most painful forms of evil and hatred and cruelty. And we should take note that in the appearances Christ made with His disciples after the resurrection He did not shy away from showing them the holes in His hands and feet and the spear wound in His side. We must face facts my friends: life in this world is going to hurt us sometimes…the Lord put an exclamation point on that fact when He showed His followers those wounds on His body. The evils and darkness of Hell are still here, and so we too will get hurt and betrayed and knocked around in awful ways by it, which creates wonderment and doubt at times toward the amazingly unselfish love, mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
The Lord understands and has mercy for our frailties and weaknesses, and will not force conjunction and joining with Him when we really are not ready for it. This, once again, is another sign of the truth of His pure love for us. For like the woman plagued with years of disease, if or when we are ready to again touch our Lord and Savior there will then be a transference of the Lord’s healing and gracious love into us…it will flow into us. There then occurs a communication of Divine power…life is renewed again! But sometimes we just are not ready for such intimacy and closeness with the Lord, sometimes it is better for Him to say to us, “Touch me not.” As Carla Friedrich once wrote about this reality, “In these sentences, the Lord acknowledges also our ambivalent nature toward Him and humanity and our failure to recognize truth, good and opportunity for change when it is right beside us. The Lord recognizes our very real despair and our hope.”
In other words, He understands that in the deeper wellsprings of life within us, our greatest hope and desire is life and conjunction with Him. He will always ultimately draw us respectfully toward this end, but He will also honor the fact that sometimes with Him it will be too much for us inside to have and “I-thou” connection with Him. And at those times Christ is also saying to us, “Touch me not.” However, we must be clear on what the Lord’s desire and goal is with us, to be closely connected with Him, as we read in our doctrine (which is drawn essentially directly out of God’s Word): “He wills to save everyone and by His mighty power to draw them towards heaven, that is, towards Himself. The Lord desires to be fully conjoined with humans. It is impossible for anybody to be joined to the Lord except by means of that which He Himself is, that is, except by acting like Him, or becoming one with Him -- that is to say, by loving the Lord in return, and loving the neighbor as oneself.” And clearly at these wonderful times of life Jesus is saying toward our own ears, “Touch me personally, and know that I am God.” For when we are spiritually touching the Lord He is able to communicate the Divine power of His love through our life, and this constitutes our spiritual salvation in Jesus Christ.
May the Lord’s peace and goodness always light and empower your way. Amen.