Jesus said to her “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father…” (John 20:16-17a NRSV)
My wife, Hannah, and I have been living apart since last June when I moved back to Iowa. When we first started dating we knew this was a possibility, and it increasingly became a reality as I went along in the Search and Call process to find where God was calling me to minister.
I’m grateful for modern technologies which allow me to talk with her every night and even “see” each other via FaceTime; they help with the distance and the yearning I have to see her. But it’s nothing in comparison to actually being with her. And when our brief visits are coming to a close, I find myself trying to hold on to her tighter and tighter both literally when we hug and figuratively when we’re driving to the airport.
I wonder if Mary was feeling this same way on that Easter morning many years ago. In the author of John’s account, Jesus has to tell Mary not to “hold on” to him. It could be her hands were all snotty from wiping her nose now running profusely from crying. Or it could be Mary tried to give Jesus a bear of a hug and he’s just not that much of a hugger. I think, though, something much deeper is going on.
When Mary meets Jesus in the Garden on Easter morning, Jesus’ journey isn’t complete. Whenever the author of John talks about the glory of the Lord, or Jesus being “glorified,” he is speaking about more than just Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross or Christ’s new life-giving resurrection, but about the whole redemptive story of Christ. His death, resurrection, and ascension are all part of God’s plan for bringing humanity back into relationship with the divine.
Mary’s holding onto Jesus is her ignorance of Jesus’ mission. She doesn’t quite get all of it. What Jesus is doing is not yet complete. He still has things to do.
I wonder if we too are often like Mary. We have our own understanding of who Jesus is, and we hold on tight to it. We protect it. We never want to let it go or leave us. But Jesus isn’t bound by our own understanding. He doesn’t have to be protected by us. In fact, he’s up to something much bigger, and he tells us “Do not hold on to me.” Thanks be to God.