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John 20:11-18

Do Not Hold On to Me!

Can you imagine:

Someone you love…

Someone who saw you trapped by your demons…

Maybe the first person to truly look at you with compassion…

The only person who could truly set you free…

The person who actually chose to do these things…

tragically murdered right in front of you in one of the cruelest ways humanly invented?

The trauma; the horror; the despair that filled Mary Magdalene on what we now call Good Friday must have been overwhelming. Yet, as we hear our Gospel reading, today we see that what was so overwhelming gets completely overwhelmed by the joy of the resurrection of Jesus; the one who had done so much for Mary. Therefore, we are not surprised by her reaction. Her cry of “Rabbouni!” and her attempt to hold on to or cling to Jesus in surprise and love is something we would expect from anyone who loved and owed him this much.

But it is Jesus who does something surprising. He commands her (imperative mood in Greek) (Institute for New Testament Textual Research 2001) “Do not hold on to me.” This feels like a shock to the system – a slap to the face – in the middle of this powerful moment of wonder. What is happening here in this moment? What is Jesus saying, not only to Mary but also to those of us who would seek to follow Him?

The word for “hold on to” or “cling” is the Greek word Haptou. This seems straight forward enough, but why would Jesus command one of his most faithful followers to cease and desist? I mean, isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Don’t we want to encourage people to cling to Jesus? Why would Jesus tell her not to cling?

The key to understanding this seemingly harsh statement of Jesus is found by looking at how Mary addresses Jesus in her excitement. Rabbouni is an intensification of the title Rabbi. It is a title that is meant to show deep and solemn respect for the one to whom it is given (Lohse 1968). It goes beyond the less formal Rabbito be as formal and reverent as possible. Again, this sounds like the kind of thing we would hope followers of Jesus would develop in their own lives.

But something is different on this day. Something that Mary has not yet fully realized. Jesus was not resuscitated, he was resurrected! Resuscitation would mean he had come back to his old life; that he was alive and would die again someday. Resurrection, on the other hand, means that Jesus went all the way through death, all the way throu