John 20:11-18. Surprise

John 20:11  Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “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.’ ”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Peter and John have left the tomb because there’s nothing more to see. It’s empty. Perhaps someone in town knows something. Maybe not. But they will be safer indoors, away from the Jewish religious leaders and Roman soldiers who conspired to kill Jesus. So the cemetery is deserted, except for Mary Magdalene. She is so distraught that she can only cry.

When Mary looks again into the tomb now she sees two angels. Their message (angels always seem to have a message) is simply to ask Mary why she is crying. They serve no other function in the narrative, other than to distract Mary while Jesus approaches. Again Mary is asked why she is crying. Again she expresses her conviction that Jesus’ body has been moved or stolen— resurrection has not entered her mind.

But then she recognises Jesus (v16). His presence proves that his body has not been stolen. Further, Mary’s embrace proves that he is bodily present: he is not a ghost or a vision. He can be grabbed, touched and embraced. Resurrection is, by definition, physical rebirth to a new order of life.

Why would Jesus say to Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father“? Clearly she was holding him. Was it something to do with the nature of his ‘freshly minted’ resurrected body? No evidence for this is given. More likely it was because Jesus had many urgent things to do before his ascension to his Father. There are bigger things in play here than affection: there is a mission at hand. Mary is given a message to relay to the disciples. Jesus has an appointment with two on the Emmaus Road, and who knows what else: action before ascension.

Just as Mary Magdalene is among the first to discover Jesus’ tomb is empty, so she is also the first to see him resurrected. We don’t know why she is afforded such significant privileges but, it seems, that’s just how it happened. Nothing about Jesus’ resurrection conforms to human expectations or to the ways we might prefer events to unfold. Instead, Jesus’ lordship is simply exercised and displayed. He is alive!

Lord, please help me to receive your resurrection as it is, rather than on my terms. Grant me faith to believe it, to trust you because of it, and to live in light of it. Amen