In Genesis 2, the Lord gives instruction that the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ is not to be eaten from. There is deep mystery and meaning in this command. There seems to be some kind of boundary being established, and it seems to be a kind of protective boundary. The serpent, in chapter 3, appears to distort and exaggerate this command, saying that it must not even be touched. Perhaps it is some kind of common sense to put an additional layer of safety in place… but ultimately this approach backfires, temptation is yielded to, and this leads to a third development. The Lord then specifies for the ‘tree of Life’ to not be eaten from. This feels, to us, a strange command, as we assume that ‘to live forever’ is part of God’s plan and desire for humans. But, again, there is deep mystery here, and whatever we make of these early chapters of Genesis, we can rightly take this boundary to be protective, at least for that season in human development.
Today is Resurrection Sunday, and in John’s narration of the post-resurrection events, there is one curious event that seems to echo, even if faintly, these mysterious boundaries in Genesis. It is likely that John is deliberately echoing Genesis at points, for he opens with ‘In the beginning’. Also, the language and imagery of fruit is very Johannine, famously with Jesus’ depiction of himself as the vine in chapter 15. In chapter 20, Mary Magdalene finally recognizes Jesus as her beloved ‘Rabboni’, and is said to turn toward him. She is met with the curious command not to ‘hold onto’ Jesus. Many of us will be similarly puzzled by this, as we were with the banning from the tree of Life. What could be more a beautiful, natural and fitting way for Mary to ‘abide’ in Jesus, than to embrace him in affectionate reverence in the bright light of resurrection morning? No, says Jesus, or at least ‘not yet’. Whether we understand it or not, and whether it makes sense to us or not, there is another boundary here, which must be taken to be protective. Not that Jesus needs any protection from Mary, or even necessarily Mary from Jesus (!!!), but perhaps Mary from Mary.
Could it be that, even in the glorious glow of Easter morning, we still need boundaries to protect us from ourselves? Perhaps we need to patiently progress toward the day, also in Johannine description (Revelation 22), where we will freely and fruitfully serve “God and the Lamb”, and respond freely and fully to the invitation to take of the “water of Life”.