Pastor’s Letter May 2019
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me … Go instead to my brothers and tell them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”—John 20:16–17
The Resurrection says C. S. Lewis is a miracle of the New Creation. What makes Mary Magdalene’s devotion to Jesus unique may have begun early in his ministry when he cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:1–3). Mary had known the terrifying power of spiritual enslavement and the exhilarating freedom of following Christ her teacher. Mary followed Jesus to Jerusalem. When all the other disciples fled (Mark 14:50), she stood in solidarity with other women to witness his agonizing death on the cross (Matt. 27:55). Love perseveres when hope is extinguished. Mary witnessed Jesus’ lifeless body being taken down from the cross. He was dead! But love will not give up, Mary took note of where his body lay (Mark 15:47).
Mary could not wait for the Sabbath to be over. At the first streaks of dawn, she hurried to the tomb. Love drove her back. Perhaps all she wanted was to be with the Beloved. But further dismay greeted her: The stone had been removed and the body was gone. She hurried back and reported it to Peter and John.
John reached the tomb entrance first and hesitated, but Peter, true to his personality, barged in. The sight defied explanation, for they “still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). But Mary lingered. She would not give up so easily. She moved closer to the tomb and saw two angels. Their brief exchange suggests that they seemed harmless, ordinary folks. Just then Jesus appeared and asked: “Why are you crying?” But Mary could not recognize the voice. Thinking that he was the gardener, she pleaded with him to tell him where he might have carried away the body of Jesus, saying, “and I will get him”—I will carry him (John 20:15). She did not consider how she would do it. These are words of a determined woman. Whatever it took, she’d find the body and carry it back. But then Jesus revealed himself and spoke her name in the familiar voice that she had heard countless times before. In the depth of despair, her “teacher” had found her. She recognized his reassuring voice. She instinctively clung to him, driven by love that will not let go.
But she could not make Christ exclusively her own. Love must at some point yield to the will of the Lover: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ ” (v. 17). Following Jesus had brought Mary to the brink of despair, but love finally broke through the old order. She became the first witness of the risen Christ and the first bearer of the Good News. Mary Magdalene’s relentless pursuit of her Beloved exemplifies the spiritual quest for deeper union with God. Mary teaches us that love never fails—even when hope fails. It sustained her through the dark night of Holy Saturday into the dawn of Easter. Even as Mary clings to Christ, she also learns to let go. The ecstasy of her reunion with the Beloved was not meant to be for her alone to enjoy. He called her to go into the world and bear witness to the Resurrection: “I have seen the Lord!” From Mary, we begin to understand why love is the greatest theological virtue (1 Cor. 13:13). From her, too, we learn that however much we relish a ‘hill-top’ experience of intimacy with God, we must also descend to bring the Good News of the living Christ to a dying world.