After the story of Peter and John’s run to the tomb, we have a very touching scene as Mary was left behind at the grave.
We can only imagine what was going through her mind. She'd watched her beloved teacher/rabbi crucified right in front of her. She'd watched him die a horrible death. She was there when they rapidly did the “preparation-lite” on his body because of the approaching Sababath and then watched as a stone rolled over his tomb. Now as near as she could tell, her beloved Lord’s body had been moved/desecrated (something far more important to them than us), and she was at a total loss as to what to do. The emotional storm she had weathered over the last few days finally overwhelmed her, and she sat down to weep.
This is when our Shepherd loves to step forward, isn’t it? When we’re at our lowest point, he makes his presence more “real” to us than ever before. First he sent some supernatural messengers. But as powerful and awe-inspiring as these creatures are, they weren’t enough to comfort her. What she needed was Jesus, and he obliged.
Why didn’t she recognize him? Maybe grief and a frazzled mind, or maybe it was supernatural work, like with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We don’t know. But for a moment, her greatest dream was standing in front of her, and she didn’t know it.
I’m fully aware that modern American Christians tend to overemphasize the intimate aspects of our relationship with Christ. Lots of people talk about Jesus as if he’s their buddy or Grandpa. I know that Scripture presents our Lord as sovereign over all creation, the Judge of the universe, and the One before whom angels dare not look in the face.
But he’s also our loving Savior and Shepherd, who gently leads those with young and who carries his weakest lambs close to his heart. In front of him stood one of his wounded lambs, and his heart went out to her.
I’ve been married for several years, and I know quite well how much hearing your name on your beloved’s lips means to you. There are over 6 billion people on this planet, but that special someone can speak your name in a way that no one else can. And that’s what happened here. Something in the way he said it made her heart skip a beat, and her eyes were opened to the Person standing in front of her.
I know that the preceding paragraph sounds like it comes out of a romance novel, and there’s a good reason for that. The Lord chose to include this episode to illustrate the intimate nature of our relationship. It’s the Divine Romance writ small.
Unfortunately, now we need to turn from the poignant reunion of Jesus and Mary Magdalene to a more mundane question of theology: What’s the meaning of verse 17? The older translations rendered it as Jesus forbidding her from “touching him,” which would seem a little strange in the circumstances. The more modern ones translate it as “don’t hold onto me” or some variant, and that actually makes more sense. Now that she had him, she never wanted to let him go (literally). But regrettably he had a mission to perform, the major portion of which would be initiated once he returned to the Father’s side. She’d love to be able to hold him forever, but God’s plan couldn’t go forward if that happened. And she had a part in his plan, however small: Go tell the disciples and give them a special message.
Quite frankly, if you aren’t moved by this passage, I don’t know how to help you.
Lord Jesus, thank you for your intimate loving concern for me. When I need it, you don’t hesitate to carry me close to your chest and tell me it’s going to be fine. That’s the type of Savior you are.