It is natural to wonder why Christ the risen Lord would tell Mary Magdalene not to touch Him. At other times after His Resurrection, He invited people specifically to touch Him, to put their hands in the nail prints, and so forth. But here in John twenty, He says, “Do not cling to Me.”
To get a clue why He says this, look at His next words. “I have not yet ascended to My Father.” Why mention that? What happened at the ascension? That was when Christ removed His bodily presence from the earth. He is still present everywhere in the universe, but not in the way He had been for a little over thirty years.
He mentioned His ascension to Mary as if to say, “Soon I will not be with you in this way. Do not cling to Me as if you can hold onto Me this way forever. Soon, you will have to let Me go.”
Our Lord seems like He is dashing cold water on Mary’s ecstatic joy. In a way, He is. But why not let her have a few more moments of happiness? She had experienced the heart-wrenching sorrow of seeing her Lord crucified. The pleasure she felt at seeing Him restored to life surely harmed no one. Why ruin it for her? Especially since, as we know now, He would be around on the earth for another forty days. Certainly there was plenty of time for Mary to have some consolation after her sorrow.
But Christ says, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” Soon Mary would have to learn to find her Lord the same way we do, the same way the Church has for two thousand years. Here, in His House, where He speaks His Word. Here, where He gives His Body and Blood in the Sacrament. Here, where He forgives sins through called ministers. Here, where He cleanses us with the washing of water through the Word. Here, where the Gospel is preached for the salvation of men.
Mary would have a new kind of relationship with her Savior - in Word and Sacrament, without His visible bodily presence that she had gotten used to. Through His apostles and the pastors that would come later, Christ would give her (and us) all the precious gifts He won at the Cross and Empty Tomb. He did not rise only to give her (or us) comfort from sorrow. His Gospel may give us comfort. But much more than that, He gives eternal life.
That is why He rose – not to say, “It’s all right now. I died, and that’s sad, but look! Now I’m alive, so be happy.”
No, He rose to say, “I have conquered sin, death, and the devil. I share My victory with you. I have been raised, and so will you.”
There is a song called “In the Garden” by C. Austin Mills. It goes like this: “I come to the garden alone / While the dew is still on the roses / And the voice I hear, falling on my ear / The Son of God discloses / And He walks with me / And He talks with me / And He tells me I am His own / And the joy we share as we tarry there / None other has ever known.”
There is a catchy tune that goes with it that most of you probably know. The problem is, it describes something that is false, or at the very least, misleading. The author said that the song is a description of Mary Magdalene with Christ after His resurrection, the same story which is our Holy Gospel. But the author of the song describes Christ coming to Mary to go for a stroll with her in the early morning hours and chat with her. The two are described as tarrying there, which is the exact opposite of what Christ said. “Do not cling to Me,” and then added, “Go tell My brothers.” If anything, He was pushing her away, not inviting her to tarry there. Jesus did not stop by for a long chat to cheer up Mary.
Now, I am not just being grouchy or nit-picky with the song. Sometimes poetic license is to be expected. But there is a subtle, or maybe not so subtle message to the song. If Christ did this with Mary Magdalene, surely He does it with me. I might not see Him, but He comes along with me as I go for a stroll, and He talks to me, maybe in the sound of the wind or the emotions of my heart. Maybe I see Him in the way the sun comes out from behind the clouds. So I feel joy when Jesus walks and talks with me.
It is true that Christ your Lord is with you, even when you go for a walk. But He is not present in that way because He wants to meet with you and talk with you. He does not talk to you in the sunlight or the wind or the singing of the birds, much less the emotions of your heart. You may try to read meaning into those things, but there is no clear, trustworthy message.
No, Christ wants you to learn to meet Him the way the Church has for two thousand years. Here. Where His Word is, there He talks with you. The voice you hear proclaiming the Word is the Son of God. In the Gospel, He tells you you are His own.
There will be a time for seeing Him and talking with Him and walking with Him, although we are not sure what that will be like. That will be after our resurrection from the dead, when we will enjoy the new Eden. But that is not for us yet.
For now, we should remember not to try to cling to Christ where He has not promised to be found. We should cling to Him where His voice is clear. He wants that for you because He wants you to be certain what His promises to you are. He does not want confusion. He does not want you chasing emotions that are fickle and changeable as the wind.
There is another song that you may hear around this time of year. It says, “You ask me how I know He [Jesus] lives? He lives within my heart.” Now, Jesus dwells with each Christian in spiritual unity, so it is not exactly wrong to say He lives within your heart. But that is not how we should know that He lives. We know because the Scriptures, which are the absolutely reliable Word of God, record the eyewitness accounts of His Resurrection, including Mary’s that we have heard today.
But if we are sure that Christ lives because we feel it in our hearts, then what uncertainty that would be! One day I may feel like He lives, but the next day may be bleak and dreary. Then I may not feel that He lives. Pinning your certainty on your emotions is a most perilous idea.
My friends, Christ our dear Lord wants you to be absolutely sure that He has been raised from the dead, and you will be raised, too. He wants you to know without a shadow of a doubt that all sins have been paid for, and therefore the gates of heaven have been opened wide for you to enter there. An eternity of deathless joy awaits you.
He also wants you to find your joy here, in His house. Your heart should be filled with the pleasure of His presence where He has promised to be. He will be with you always, wherever you go. But He will be with you to give you forgiveness where the Gospel is preached. That is His voice speaking to you.
Today He says to you, “You are My brothers, and God is your Father.” Because of His death and Resurrection, Christ has given you the full status as children of God. Therefore Christ is your Brother, the best Brother anyone could ever have. He will watch out for you better than any other ever could, for all eternity.
Because of this Brother, you have a living relationship with God your Father. This is no dead relationship based on a dead Savior who gave his all but is now dead and buried. No, Christ is alive, and that means that you are adopted into God’s family. You are His, and He is yours, now and forever. Nothing, not even death and the grave, can get in the way of this fact.
To assure you of this, Christ stepped out of His own tomb. He raised Himself to show you your future. He repeats the promise to you today. You will be raised, as He is raised. Cling to Him, and cling to His promise.
In His Name, the Lord of life who has conquered death, who can never die again. Amen.
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