David A. Davis
April 4, 2021
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Mary, you, and I, we all have something in common, now. There is part of this resurrection scene in the Gospel of John that we now relate to more than ever. Mary didn’t expect to see a Risen Jesus that morning. She didn’t even think about seeing him in the flesh, seeing him from head to toe. When the one she thought to be the gardener called her by name and she recognized Jesus, Mary must have started to reach out. Maybe with just a hand. Maybe she was going in for an embrace. She certainly wasn’t just going for an elbow bump. The gospel doesn’t describe the attempted touch only the Lord’s response. But clearly Mary was so surprised to see him, so grateful to see him right there before her, so pleased to be in his physical presence that her first move was to touch. How many times has that happened to you the last year? You and I can certainly understand and relate to someone weeping next to grave. We will never know why Mary couldn’t recognize Jesus until he said her name. We will never really be able to imagine what it must have felt like for her that resurrection morning. But we certainly do know, we really do understand now, her desire to touch, to embrace, to hold.
But Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me”. In several translations Jesus said, “Do not cling to me.” One translation is just insulting to Mary. It has Jesus saying “Stop clinging to me.” The King James is simply “Touch me not”. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’. She turned and said to him in Hebrew ‘Rabbouni!’…Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father.’” What on earth or what in heaven does that mean? “Because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
I had to get a new study bible this week because my NRSV annotated pretty much fell apart. It is a revised edition with a new set of footnotes by a new set of editors. Probably long overdue for me. So, of course, I checked to see if there was an explanatory note about the reason Jesus gave to Mary for not holding on. Here’s what it said, “lit, ‘do not touch me’ perhaps because Jesus is in a liminal state before returning to the Father.” Well, that’s not very helpful. A note requiring another note is not very helpful. Jesus in a liminal state. As we say in my business, that’s not going to preach very well.
In Matthew, when the women who went to the tomb see the Risen Jesus, Matthew tells that “they came to him and took hold of his feet and worshiped him”. Jesus tells them to not be afraid and to go tell the disciples to go to Galilee and they will see him there. Don’t hold on here but go and tell the others. That seems straightforward. But here in John, it’s don’t hold on because I have not yet ascended. “Go to my brothers and say to them “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Not go and tell them I will see them in Galilee. Not go and tell them what you have seen and heard; that you have seen the Lord. But go and tell them I am ascending.
The Gospel of John and Jesus’ suffering, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. All through this season of Lent as we have studied the Last Supper Discourse, the sequence of suffering, death, resurrection…and ascension has come up again and again. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”, Jesus says to Andrew and Philip on the Palm Sunday stage. To be glorified. His glorification. His hour. The reference is to his suffering, his death, his resurrection, his ascension. They all go together in John. John doesn’t privilege the resurrection. The sequence is the total package. Which means when Mary reaches for the Risen Jesus, when Mary goes in for the embrace, Jesus is not done yet. His salvific work is not complete.
Mary is reaching for the familiar Jesus she knows and loves and Jesus tells her “no, not yet”. Because in John’s Gospel, the victory over death and the world’s darkness comes when this Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in all power, honor, and glory. When the heavenly chorus gathered around the throne starts to thing “Hallelujah…For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”
Mary wants to hold on to the way things were. She wants to touch the Teacher who healed the sick and sat with the outcasts and welcomed sinners and both taught and modeled what a faith-filled life should be. But Jesus says no, it won’t be the same. Mary wants to cling to the Jesus of her world, that world of an Easter morning when it was still dark. But the Risen Jesus wants to usher in a new world. As one preacher put it, “Jesus was on his way to God and he was taking the world with him.”
Before Jesus tells Mary to go, he tells her he is the one who has to go. And with his departure comes the presence of Christ redefined. A presence in the gift of the Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. His ascension brings his presence. The presence of Christ in and through the lives of those who follow him. The presence of Christ unleashed in the world as the poor are cared for, the grieving are comforted, the powerful are brought low, truth is proclaimed, and love carries the day. The presence of Christ alive in the world as life conquers death, light shines where there once was darkness, generosity squelches greed, swords are smashed into plowshare, forgiveness stomps out hatred, and the hungry push away from the table now full. The presence of Christ made known to the world in and through the Body of Christ; Christ’s resurrection people.
I walked through the cemetery this morning toward the location of the sunrise service at a pretty slow pace. It was still dark but I was going slow because I was really not in a rush to get there. I was not in a rush because of time. I was not in a rush because I didn’t really want to do it again. Livestream an Easter sunrise service with no one there for a second year. Then I thought about Easter two years ago as I watched people gathering for the service, walking in the darkness from pretty much every direction to that space near the tree facing the rising sun. Right about then, it felt like God sort of kicked me in the pants, or shook a finger at me, or maybe it was all because it was getting a bit brighter. I realized Easter morning is never about looking back. It is about looking ahead. Because Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! I knew what I was preaching at 11:00 and here I was just hanging on to the past and clinging to the world as it is rather than pondering the breathtaking promise of resurrection hope and the new world Jesus brings.
You and I are called to stand in the present darkness of Easter morning and lean into the light that the Risen Christ forever shines. You and I, while we may be yearning deep down to cling to that which we know and wished had never changed, we are called to point to that which God knows is yet to come. Because God’s resurrection people, even when standing next to the tomb, we stand there on the threshold of death and boldly announce, “I have seen the Lord” in the face of those I see, in the work of those Christ has called. Indeed the presence of Christ in his absence. God’s resurrection people, surrounded, indeed overwhelmed, by the grief and suffering and strife and heartbreak that so mercilessly defines what it means to be human, yet again and again we find the strength to proclaim, “thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God’s resurrection people, we stand in a Good Friday world and dare to live into Easter, begging, pleading, even demanding for “the more excellent way” of love. God’s resurrection people, yes we are. And together we rise on Easter morning to shout with a finger in the world’s chest and say, no, no, no. There is a better way. Because Christ has Risen! He is Risen indeed!
Don’t cling to the world as you want it to be; work to make it the world God promised it would be. Don’t cling to the world defined by wealth and achievement and power; work to make it a world where kindness, humility, and gentleness count for more. Don’t cling to a world where hatred resides so deep within; work for a world where is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. Don’t cling to world where winners take all and charity begins at home. Work for a work where your rejoice with those who rejoice and you weep with those who weep, and if one member of the body suffers, we all suffer, and where injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Don’t cling to a world that assumes the necessity of violence or the inevitability of war or the idolatrous lust for guns. Work for a world where strength comes to those who are week, and security, power, and trust comes from God alone. Because Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed.
Easter Day. It’s never a day for looking back. It’s a not a day for hangers on. It a day for pondering the breathtaking promise of resurrection hope and the new world Jesus brings.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!