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Faithful Clinging

John 20:1-18

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Apr 16, 2017 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene at the tomb as she’s crying, and He engages her in conversation.  He wants to comfort her.  She’s already crushed because her beloved Jesus had been wrongfully and shamefully murdered three days earlier.  Now, as if she needed salt rubbed into her wounds, the tomb is empty and the body is missing.  Talk about being kicked when you’re down!  Jesus engages her.  He wants to comfort her.  He even calls her by name, which is when her eyes are finally opened to recognize her resurrected Lord and Savior standing before her, alive and well.  Reflexively, she does what any of us would’ve done in that moment—she reaches out and attempts to wrap Jesus up in a big old hug.  And this is when it gets interesting…maybe even a bit troubling, for some.

“Do not cling to Me.” What?!  What kind of loving, gentle Savior is this?  This doesn’t sound very warm and inviting.  Maybe Jesus needs some lessons on how to properly grow a church!  “Do not cling to Me.” To be sure, much has been written on these words, and there has been no shortage of conjecture.  Many people, with the best intentions, have tried “cracking” this code, treating it as a problem to be solved.  For some, these words of prohibition conjure up an image of a Jesus who doesn’t want to be bothered or mobbed on; a Jesus who performs a Heisman move on Mary, too busy or too great to be touched.  (You can understand why these same folks who believe this also feel the need to pray to saints, hoping that they’ll make intercession to a God who’s too busy or too high and holy to deal with the likes of them.) For others, especially those from a more reformed background, Jesus is understood as saying here that Mary is not to cling to Him with physical hands, but only with the hands of faith, as if Jesus no longer has any need for real and tangible means; only for the symbolic and “spiritual.”

Well…we certainly know what this doesn’t mean, right?  Both those explanations are WRONG!  But…what can we say about this?  We can say with all certainty that God’s people have always had a bit of a problematic history with trusting in Him above all things.  God’s people have had some history with romanticizing the past.  Just think how Israel clung to the past and longed for the good old days when they had the flesh pots of Egypt.  Let me ask you this: Have you ever been to a high school reunion?  Have you ever been on some people’s Facebook pages?  If so, then you know what it means to cling to the past.  Again, remember that Mary was heading out to that tomb on Easter Sunday morning, seeking out a dead and decomposing Jesus.  Her first and natural instinct upon encountering the resurrected Jesus is to take hold of Him and never want to let go again.  She lost Him once, and she doesn’t want to lose Him again.  Your Lord knows the heart.  He knows that at that moment she is still clinging to a Jesus that existed in her mind and heart before Good Friday; not the Lord of Life standing before her in that moment.  She clings to the past that she preferred; not the present reality standing before her.  Jesus gently “corrects” her.  With these words He gently teaches a lesson in what not to do; a lesson He already taught through Solomon centuries before; a lesson about not longing for the “good old days.” This is why your Lord admonishes her in all love, putting her hands to the proverbial plow and setting her gaze aright, not looking back at what once was, but looking now at what is—the victorious, crucified and resurrected Savior; the One who has conquered sin, death, and the devil; the One the grave cannot hold.  Death no longer has dominion over Him. 

This gentle word of admonishment at once drives away the dark pall of fear and doubt, and instead turns her around and opens her eyes, her heart, and her mind to the joyous, eternal resurrection victory reality standing before.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit in that Word of Christ, this blessed example of faith obeys her Lord’s command and calling.  That’s really what this is all about.  Mary Magdalene hears and holds fast to Christ’s Word and assurance, obeying His command, departing with a peace that surpasses all understanding, knowing full well that she has Him not only for forty more days, but for all eternity.  She lets go; better yet, she is released from that darkness of fear that worries about losing Jesus again, set free to joyously and confidently trust with a faith that only God Himself can give that she will never lose Him.  He will be nearer to her now than ever, seated at God’s right hand in all power and glory, and thus forever with all those who are His. 

“Go and tell My brothers….” (This is the first time in all of John that Jesus refers to the disciples as “His brothers.” Things on this side of the cross and this side of the tomb are forever different.) “Go and tell My brothers that I am ascending to My Father and your Father.” This is the Good News Mary Magdalene runs to share with her brothers in the faith; the Good News that the crucified Christ lives; the victory is won; the Good News that He is their brother and God is their Father; the Good News that He, as their brother, is with them now and will be with them always—victorious—until the very end of the age; Good News that the apostles will hear their Lord speak verbatim forty days later at His ascension.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Mary’s peace and joy is our peace and joy today.  “I am with always, to the very end of the age.” Nothing has changed!  Christ lives.  The victory is won.  The Lamb of God, who once was slain, reigns victorious.  Notice all the present-tense language.  Christ lives; the victory is won and is our…right now.  Christ reigns victorious, and this Lord of Life doesn’t reign from afar or only in the past or only in the unforeseen future, but here and now, in our very midst.  He reigns eternally.  Immanuel lives!  He comes today to us to once again bespeak His Word of peace and victory.  He comes today to once again proclaim His victorious peace, to have table fellowship with us; that is, to feed us and nourish us with His peace; His victorious body and blood.  He comes today, inviting us to come to Him, and not just grasp, but to take and eat; take and drink, for the complete forgiveness of all our sin.  He comes today to feed us and nourish us in the most intimate, loving way with a peace that surpasses all understanding; the same peace that was Mary’s and all those who’ve ever trusted in Him above all things.  He comes today, just like He did with Mary, sending us out into a world that is veiled in a pall of sinful darkness, doubt, and despair, sending us out in the full confidence of faith and peace to speak and share His Word of Life; His Word of resurrection victory and ever-abiding grace, mercy, and peace.

May this peace of God; this same victorious peace that was Mary’s; the peace that surpasses all human understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and into all eternity.  AMEN.

Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.

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