In the old world, Dave and I would be leading worship together at our Harborough Church. We would have had conversations about it, and I would have asked him to work with one of the Easter Sunday readings, rather than the set one relating to the evening appearances later in chapter 20
This conversation with Mary Magdalene has always been a place of hope and inspiration for me. The moment of recognition, simply because He calls her by her name, and the overwhelming response of love, still has the power to make me weep.
But now, in the world as it is today, “Do not hold on to me” (sometimes simply translated “Do not touch me”) seems almost a direct word to us. We have been finding ways to stay ‘in touch’ when we must not touch; to ‘talk’ when we must not meet; to ‘be’ with friends and family when we must not even be in the same place, let alone the same room; and for many of us it is breaking our hearts.
So why does Jesus tell Mary not to hold on to him? What difference does it make that He has not yet ‘ascended’? Why is she denied the hug that would confirm the reality of His presence with her?
I suggest that He is trying to let her know that the world has changed. Her relationship with Him will never be the same. It will not be less real because there will be no physical contact. On the contrary, it will become more real, filling in her heart and mind, filling her whole life, because it will embrace the whole world and change all other relationships as well.
Because He has been raised; because he is even more fully alive; and because that life is offered to all, it cannot be ‘held’ , as though it is only ours, by any of us. It must be shared, in whatever way is possible for us. It is hard – very hard. It takes patience and compassion and kindness. It takes a self-giving that may not be able to feel a response because we are apart. But it is possible.
So Mary becomes the very first apostle – sent to others with the good news, even if , according to the other gospels, they do not believe her.
So I, having not written the script of a sermon for many years, am trying to speak in what is for me a deeply uncomfortable way.
So we are all invited to hold fast to the truth that the world has changed. Jesus has been raised. God is with us. We are not alone, because the God who holds us all when we cannot hold God or each other, provides the link across time and space. And, in the midst of the pain and hardship and grieving, we have this space with God to begin to work out how God invites us to be in this new world.