There is an interesting description of Jesus’ resurrection encounter with Mary who comes to realize that the Gardener is actually Jesus. Once Jesus utters her name “Mary”, she recognizes the voice and face to be that of Jesus whom she witnessed being crucified just days before. She exclaims “Teacher” and goes to grab hold of Him. Jesus responds in what I always thought to be an abrupt manner:
“Do not hold on to me, I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
For years I thought that Jesus was being a bit rude, that he could have allowed for a hug and embrace. After all, she, along with all of His other disciples, were heartbroken, terrified and filled with grief and sorrow. Their Master, their Teacher, their Lord, was dead after suffering a brutal beating humiliating trial and torturous execution. Now, He is alive! It is unbelievable. It is beyond their wildest dreams (even though he told them he would rise again.). It is a miracle and warrants a loving embrace.
Why wouldn’t Jesus allow for that?
Upon further study of the Greek wording of this phrase it is better understood as “to cling to; to hang onto”; Jesus was not forbidding to be touched (he told Thomas to touch him); Mary’s was more than a touch, it was a forceful grip. Mary was in essence holding onto to Jesus as not to let him go. She had lost him once before and didn’t want to lose him again. She wanted what she had always had with him and didn’t want this moment to pass, didn’t want anything to change. She desired to keep him by her side always, as long as she lived. But the resurrection indicated a new direction for Jesus, even a new relationship with his disciples. Things would not be as they once were. Jesus would not stay on this earth forever. He was going to depart to be with the Father and to send the Holy Spirit as their Comforter. He would be with them, but no longer in a physical way. The physical would give way to the spiritual.
I now better understand what Mary was doing. As our family has been with our very sick mother over these past three weeks it has become so much clearer. We want our mom to be with us and we don’t want anything to change other than her illness. We want her to get better and have the life we have always enjoyed with her. We sit around her bed and reminisce, laugh and cry. We have great memories and she still is cognitively sharp and maintains her sense of humor. But we know she is very ill. And even if she somehow gets through this we know that nobody lives forever. We will all die at one point or another. So as her mortality begins to be realized and her years wane, we cling on to her, we hold on, we tighten our grip.
And now I better understand what Jesus was doing. Things will change and we will never have what we once had. He was bringing Mary into a new reality. As much as she wanted things to stay the same he knew that this earthly life is only temporary and there is a new day that dawns. It is a mystery but unless he went to the Father things could not change. We are to receive this by faith. There comes a time when we slowly must let go, allow my mother to go to the Father. We hope we have several years but that is not likely the case. A new reality is being created both for us and for her. She will one day be in God’s presence and she will have a totally new existence. And as difficult it is we can rejoice, yes even celebrate this reality.
Sometime in faith we need to hold on. But sometimes, in faith, we must let go.