Every Easter our Revised Common Lectionary gives us the choice of reading the Resurrection story from the appointed synoptic gospel or from the gospel of John. I have to confess to a certain sentimental bias for John’s account (John 20:1-18). There’s something about seeing dear Mary Magdalene mourning outside the tomb that really touches me. This year I think we can all relate to her. Her beloved rabbi has died and she’s had to put her mourning ritual on hold because of the Sabbath and Passover laws. I wonder how many people have been in her shoes lately because of the covid-19 outbreak? There are many who have lost loved one but have had to postpone memorial services because of social distancing requirements. All of us, I think, have been in a state of limbo, wanting to be with loved ones on this Easter, but trapped in this weird moment of uncertainty. I guess we're all in the same fix as Mary.
Every time I read this passage I’m touched by Mary’s grief and her devotion to Jesus. She tells the man she thinks is the caretaker that she will carry the body of Jesus away if he’ll only tell her where he’s put it. Now, can you imagine yourself carrying the body of a deceased loved one?
What really strikes me, though, is Jesus’ words in verse 17: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” You just know from reading this that Mary must’ve lunged for the Lord as soon as she recognized him—just as we’ll all lunge for our loved ones as soon as this quarantine is lifted. John doesn’t have to tell us that Mary is just bizzaco with joy. We feel her Easter rapture coming off the page.
But Jesus’ words may seem a little odd. I mean, he doesn’t have to observe social distance, so why is he telling Mary not to hug him? I have a theory: It’s because in walking with us and suffering every temptation and every pain and sorrow we’ll ever experience, then in rising from the dead and promising us everlasting life, Jesus has done his job. It’s not enough to hang on to the memory of the earthly Jesus. Instead, it’s time to embrace the Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father, the Jesus who comes to abide with us through the Holy Spirit. It’s time for Mary and the others to stop being disciples—students and followers of Jesus—and time for them to become apostles—ambassadors for Jesus.
Our Easter message is always the reminder that the job has been completed. As Saint Paul told the Romans:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angles nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else n all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Isn’t that great? The victory is won. We don’t have to prove anything anymore. We are living as heirs to eternity. Everything we do, every prayer we pray, every relationship we enjoy, every cause we take up, we can now do as our joyful response to being promised eternal life through Jesus. We don’t need to hold on to worldly things when we trust in heavenly things. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Aim at heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in.”
What we are enduring now is just a moment in eternity, and anything is bearable when you know it is only temporary. Today we may be waiting as Mary waited, but there is so much joy waiting for us up ahead. So stay strong, and say with the Christians of all the ages the ancient celebratory cry: “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”
If you'd like to hear a short video message, click here: Easter.