On resurrection Sunday, Jesus made many appearances.
One has often often perplexed me. Not because of who Jesus appeared to but what He said on that occasion.
Today we’ll focus on the first appearance recorded to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) and learn what Jesus meant when He said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  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.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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.’”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (ESV)
What can we learn from this passage?
Mary was a woman from the region called Magdala, and that’s why her name appears as Mary Magdalene. Who was she?
Mary had followed Jesus ever since He had freed her from possession by evil spirits. Luke 8:2 reveals that Mary had been inhabited by seven demons. She had so much gratitude for Jesus that she followed Him with a group of other women who had likewise been delivered from evil spirits and infirmities all the way to the cross and the tomb. People sometimes mix up Mary with a sinful woman mentioned in Luke 7:36-50, but there is no evidence to support that link. Needless to say, Mary was reborn when Jesus saved her, and she truly followed Him as her Savior and Lord.
But what deep sadness she felt renewed when she discovered the empty tomb that Sunday morning. All she could think through her grief is that someone had taken the body of Jesus away. Two angels in bright appearance spoke to her urging her not to despair, but Mary didn’t seemed fazed by their appearance or words. Grief ran deep through her.
She even perceived Jesus Himself who appeared near her by the garden tomb as the gardener. It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” that she knew it was the Lord.
It is intriguing that Jesus said to her, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” particularly so since Jesus said about a week later to Thomas, “put out your hand and place it in my side” (John 20:27). Why the difference? From what I can understand, it wasn’t because Jesus’s resurrection body couldn’t handle touch. He was not by any means raw or fragile! Mary and Thomas actually had to learn a similar lesson: walk with Jesus by faith. Trust Him and take Him at His word. Mary, by “cling[ing]” to Jesus, tried to grasp onto Jesus with no intent to let Him go! I truly believe Mary was so glad to have Jesus back that she didn’t want to lose her Lord again. That is understandable, and we would all hopefully identify with her right desire. However, no one could have closer access to Jesus than that given by the gift of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus returned to His Father, that’s the promise He said He would fulfill (John 15:26-27).
- Jesus calls each of His beloved people by name. Can you imagine Jesus calling you by your first name? How wonderful it will be for believers to someday hear the voice of their Good Shepherd! Yet, even now He speaks to us by the promises He gave us. Which leads to the next point:
- Jesus calls on each of us to live by faith in His revealed word. Mary didn’t need to cling to Jesus to try to control what would happen next and guarantee her joy and safety. Friends, you and I don’t need to live trying to control the outcome of our lives. Trust in the promises of Jesus our Lord! Look them up. Perhaps it would do you much good to read through John chapters 14-16 this week.
Our Lord and Savior, we love You and would gladly cling to You! But like You told Mary, it is good for us to know that You are with Your Father now and have sent Your Holy Spirit to us, communicating Your love for us and the truth of Your Word. Help us to live by faith in You today, to live by Your Spirit and live in His power. We long for the day when we can be with You face to face. Amen.