“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.’” (John 20:14-18)
Do not cling to Me? Did Jesus really say that?
I can almost feel His strong hands gently prying His robe from her fists. Why couldn’t she hold on? She had come broken. She had come grieving. She had met with confusion and despair when Jesus was not there. Then her heart rejoiced to hear Him speak her name. Her spirit leapt to realize He had risen. Her hands reached. And they clung. I can understand why.
But then He made her let go. My heart aches for her at the thought of it.
Why? I have been asking Him all week as though it were my own hands clutching His robe. And another verse of Scripture has echoed in my mind: “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).
I’m sorry, I have wanted to say, I do not understand what You are talking about. But I do. He is talking, I think, about hearts that cling to the way things were while He is moving us forward. He is talking about our longing for familiarity at the expense of His will. He is talking about clutching what we’ve always known when He has something so much better in mind.
As God ushered Lot and his family from Sodom and Gomorrah, sparing them from the judgment that He poured out on those cities, Lot’s wife looked back. She longed for some strangely idealized memory of what had been. She ached for what once was. She feared what was to come.
And so, before Jesus’ death, when He spoke of His coming kingdom and His future return, He reminded them of Lot’s wife:
“Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” (Luke 17:28-33)
Will we miss the Coming King because we hold too tightly to the world we’ve known? Will we cling to our kingdoms and miss the one He’s ushering in?
My heart breaks for Mary because I am a clinger. I want to hold on. I want to clutch the things I’ve known. I will white-knuckle “the way it’s been” as though I might convince God to let me stay. Or perhaps I have my feet planted firmly in the familiar, and I’m clinging onto Him in hopes that He’ll stay. I think maybe that’s what Mary was doing. Maybe she was holding onto the Jesus she’d always known, to the way that He had always been, when He was doing a new thing. He had risen from the dead after all! Things could never be the same. But that didn’t keep her heart from longing for familiar. It didn’t keep her hands from reaching for the One she’d known.
Mary, feet planted by the empty tomb, clung to the Lord, silently begging Him to stay right there. He was on His way to the Father, though. He would send the Holy Spirit. He would establish the church. He would roll out the kingdom of God onto this fragile sod. He would – He will – one day return in glory and power. Without realizing it, Mary held onto the way it had been and risked missing His greater glory.
She didn’t miss it, though, and I don’t want to either.
I look down at my white knuckles. Am I clinging to Jesus in a way that begs Him not to move? Am I hesitant to let Him lead me into the new? I am tempted to cling to the way it’s always been, but He whispers a promise that it will be better, even if it’s hard. I am clinging to a life with which I am familiar, and He is beckoning me to lay it down.
For just a moment I’m frozen right there with Mary, and Jesus has just spoken words I never thought I’d hear: “Do not cling to Me.” And I want to ask Mary if it was worth it. Do we let go? Do we lay this down? Do we actually leave this here? Even though it hurts? Even though it’s scary? Even though we don’t know what’s to come? Do we let Him go so that He can lead?
Mary, did He really ask you to let go of Him? How did you summon the strength to obey?
Instead of her reply, I hear the voice of her Lord: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29). My death-grip loosens, and I realize, with an exhale, that I’ve been holding my breath.
I can let go because He never will.
Sometimes He has to pry things out of our hands so that He can show us how tightly He holds us in His.