John 20: 11-18 NRSV
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Although Jesus uttered his last words from his human form on the cross, those were not his last words to his followers. As memorialized in today’s scripture, John 20: 11-18, Jesus continued speaking after the crucifixion with deep compassion toward his grieving friends. Even today, Jesus is still speaking to us with his message of deep love and compassion. In the Beatitudes, Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). In the days immediately following the crucifixion, many of “those who mourn” were comforted by Jesus in his new form.
How many of us have lost a beloved and experienced the deep and searing chasm of that person’s absence? Oh, to be able to hold his or her hand again, to give and get a hug, to tickle, caress and touch our beloved. Mary Magdalene struggled with those same feelings when she saw her Lord Jesus was no longer in his tomb. The scripture reveals her anguish and her desire to know where “they” had laid Jesus’ body. Mary’s need to find Jesus’ physical body is palpable from this ancient text – and a familiar longing after the death of a loved one even today. The scripture doesn’t spell out exactly why Mary didn’t recognize Jesus initially. Although it is so normal in the shock of loss to experience a deep fog of grief that blinds us to what we would otherwise know or recognize.
However, as soon as Mary heard Jesus call her name, she recognized him. Can’t you just picture her leaping to Jesus’ side? I can. Mary did what I would do – and I imagine others would also do, if one of a beloved appeared from the grave – she clung to dear friend and teacher. Many commentators note that the verb tense indicates that Jesus didn’t order Mary not to touch him in an anticipatory tense, but rather Jesus told Mary that she no longer needed to cling to him, using the present tense. This scripture reveals Jesus’ understanding of the devouring pain of grief, his desire to make manifest God’s resurrection promise, and his literal undying love and loyalty for his followers – in the days immediately following his crucifixion and in the centuries to come.
Even in the bleak, early hours of grief, when we can be numb, in that impenetrable fog, blinded, debilitated, Jesus and his Father – our God – are there to comfort us, the mourners. God generously shares His angels with us to comfort us in our mourning and to remind us of His unfailing promise of eternal love and resurrection.
Prayer: Dear God, when I yearn to cling to my mother, my son, my beloveds who have left this earthly plane, remind me of your promise. Help me to relinquish my desire to cling to the physical that is now absent and instead give me the conviction and courage to raise my arms wide to receive your comfort. Amen.
Susan Turner Mathew