I Have Seen the Lord!

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”


She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.
John 20:11-18

This sculptural scene depicting Noli Me Tangere, with Mary Magdalene meeting the risen Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, was designed in 1649 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for a chapel in the Church of Saints Dominic and Sixtus on the Quirinal Hill in Rome, located on the campus of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum).

Church of Saints Domenic and Sixtus, Quirinal Hill, Rome

Church of Saints Domenic and Sixtus, Quirinal Hill, Rome

Bernini made designs for the church interior, including the high altar and the side chapel with the scene of Mary Magdalene and the Risen Christ.

Interior of Church of Saints Dominic and Sixtus

Interior of Church of Saints Dominic and Sixtus, designed by Bernini

However the sculptural work itself of Mary Magdalene with Jesus was executed by one of Bernini’s pupils, Antonio Raggi, in 1649.

Detail of Noli Me Tangere, Gianloreno Bernini and Antonio Raggi, 1649 Santi Domenico e Sisto, (Church of Saints Dominic and Sixtus), Rome

Detail of Noli Me Tangere, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Antonio Raggi, 1649 Santi Domenico e Sisto, (Church of Saints Dominic and Sixtus), Rome

The chapel design is typically theatrical Bernini, using several motifs to create a strong impression on first viewing the scene of Mary Magdalene with Jesus. In the light from the window above we can see an angel holding a cross, with two putti or cherubs holding the crown of thorns and the veil of Veronica, to remind the viewer of the Crucifixion and signal that this is the Risen Christ we are witnessing along with Mary Magdalene. The backdrop has a fresco of the empty tomb in its garden, to further solidify the scene in the viewer’s mind.

When we compare this work with Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, dated two years later, we can see several similarities in the staged setting: the lighting from a lunette window above with heavenly golden rays coming down, the use of pillars and a split pediment above to frame the aedicula or shrine, the contrasting polychrome marbles to focus attention on the white sculptures, the presence of angels, the swirling windswept garments. All of this is intended to induce awe and lets the viewer know that heaven is breaking into the earthly realm.

As mentioned, this chapel was designed by Bernini. However the sculptural work itself was executed by one of his pupils, Antonio Raggi, in 1649. In my mind, the difference is evident in the total lack of emotion shown on the face of Mary. When we compare the ecstatic, swooning face of Teresa with the somewhat placid expression shown by Mary Magdalene, who, after all, is seeing her Lord resurrected from the dead, the difference between master and pupil is clearly seen.  Do you agree?

 

Here is a beautiful meditation upon this scene from Dailyscripture.net:

Do you recognize the Lord’s presence when you hear his word? How easy it is to miss the Lord when our focus is on ourselves! Mary did not at first recognize the Lord because her focus was on the empty tomb and on her own grief. It took only one word from the Master, when he called her by name, for Mary to recognize him. Mary’s message to the disciples, I have seen the Lord, is the very essence of Christianity. It is not enough that a Christian know about the Lord, but that we know him personally. It is not enough to argue about him, but to meet him. In the resurrection we encounter the living Lord who loves us personally and shares his glory with us. The Lord gives us “eyes of faith” to see the truth of his resurrection and victory over sin and death (Ephesians 1:18). The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our hope – the hope that we will see God face to face and share in his everlasting glory and joy. “Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.  As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Do you recognize the Lord’s presence with you, in his word, in the “breaking of the bread,” and in his church, the body of Christ?

“Lord Jesus, may I never fail to recognize your voice nor lose sight of your presence in your life-giving word.”

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