John 20:1-18 When we stand here in the garden, early in the morning, on this morning, perhaps you, like I, imagine what it was like to be there in that garden in Palestine on the morning Jesus was raised from the dead.
We watch as Mary comes to the tomb weeping, and we understand her sorrow.
As she sees the stone removed and discovers Jesus’ body is gone, and we understand her fear.
She talks with the one she supposes to be the gardener, and we understand her confusion.
And of course! as joy bursts forth from her, we understand as she moves to wrap her arms around Jesus whom she has loved, and lost, and is alive again!
Perhaps you, like I, understand …
until we hear Jesus say, “Wait.” “Stop.” “Do not hold onto me. I have not yet ascended to my Father…”
How do we understand this, this order of restraint from Jesus at a moment such as this?
Many speculate about what that sentence means: what does it tell us about the nature of the resurrection body? Is the resurrection body not substantial enough to touch? Then why does Jesus tell Thomas the next week to put his hands in Jesus’ wounds?
If we think of Jesus’ order “do not hold onto me…” in terms of his physicality, we get the impression that the resurrected Jesus at this point is rather like an email that is in the process of being sent, with the rotating circle indicating the process is not yet complete. And perhaps this is true – the details of the nature of the resurrection body are a mystery to us, and will continue to be.
But perhaps when Jesus restrains Mary saying “Do not hold onto me…”, he is not as concerned with touch as he is with timing.
When one of our daughters was a young girl of about 9 or 10, she was exuberant with her affections. She would bound up to Carter or me like a German shepherd puppy and throw her arms around us in a big squeeze. This could happen anytime, anywhere – while I’d be putting a casserole in the oven for dinner, while standing in the greeting line at the back of the sanctuary, or in a conversation during the coffee hour, hot cup of coffee in hand. It was a wonderful thing, to receive such exuberant affection, but it was not always well-timed.
Sometimes we’d have to say to her, kindly, gently, but firmly, “Not now, honey, I’m in the middle of something.”
Jesus says something similar to Mary, here in the garden at the dawn of the day of resurrection. “Mary, dear Mary, do not hold onto me just now…I am in the middle of something.”
I imagine that Mary will have her chance to wrap her arms around Jesus later, like Thomas and the other disciples. But not now. Not here. Jesus is in the middle of something.
This scene in the garden is pivotal, it is the crucial event in the story of God in Christ. With Christ’s rising from the dead on Easter, Christ has accomplished victory over sin, and Death is changed forever. Something shifts at the center of the cosmos. This scene is the garden reveals the truth at the center of our faith: that Death is no longer the end of the story.
But Resurrection is not the end of the story either. Jesus prevents Mary from holding onto him at this moment because he is only in the middle of things. There is more to come in this story of God in Christ and the people of the earth. More to reveal and unfold. The story will go on from this morning, from this moment, from this garden, past Christ’s resurrection…
and the rest of the story begins here, now: Christ’s story will continue through her…“Go to my brothers, Mary…”
Christ’s story will continue through the disciples, whom Jesus calls ‘brothers,’ despite all their failures and betrayals…
As the picture on the front of the bulletin illustrates, Christ’s story will continue past Resurrection morning on through every age, in men and women who come to him -
until not only Death is changed,