Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb… But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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 Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because 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.'”
And so the church begins. Not in glory, trumpets, choirs, but in one woman’s grief, fear, shock. In her encounter with the holy. In the story told and retold for nigh onto 2000 years.
The Easter sunrise story in each gospel is different. The details seem not to matter as much as the emotion and action. Grieving, walking, running, looking, even deeper grieving, wondering the who and why of the body being stolen, shock, longing, holding on.
For Mary shock becomes recognition in an instant. What begins as a walk toward a cemetery becomes a walk into newness. An encounter with a gardener becomes something else altogether. Fear morphs into gratitude.
She wants to hold on. Of course she does. Who wouldn’t?
And from the flesh of death comes a word of life: Go. Don’t hold onto me.
There’s life to be lived. Joy to be experienced. Work to be done. Love to be spread around.
She can’t hold on to the flesh-and-blood Jesus, because the eternal Word is sending her to keep on living.
The woman Mary who leaves the cemetery that morning is a different person from the one who had entered. Or, at least she has the opportunity to be a different person.
Don’t hold on, Mary.
If those women and men that Sunday morning had chosen to hold on to their old life and hadn’t recognized what was happening, we’d not be in church Easter morning imagining what new thing God has in store for us.
If people across the world in oppressive countries decided to hold on to their safety instead of risking it to make their world a better place for their children and their children’s children, we would not see peaceful protest trying to oust the power of tyranny. They choose to release the past and reach out for the future.
We may not ever be challenged to risk like that, but we are challenged every day to stop holding on.
We walk into church on Easter morning and we meet people who are bravely meeting each day by attempting to let go of the past.
You sit down in the pew and ask God to help you let go of the bad thing you did and start forgiving yourself. It’s been so long.
The person you greet is still working on releasing that terrible thing that was done to him and trying not to let it keep him in its strong grip of holding him in the past.
The woman across the aisle has spent her adulthood letting go of the negative definitions of herself that an insecure parent planted in her mind, and wants to start listening to God’s definition of her as someone of great worth.
In the prayers, we all attempt to let go of anger, resentment, grudges and move on to new ways of living and being.
You sit behind a person who always struggles to let go of worry, to be free to risk change and newness and opportunity.
You sit in front of a person who is trying to let go of perfectionism, of expectations so tough he can never meet them, and to free himself to be open to failure he can learn from.
Everyone who loves a child has to figure out a way to let go of them as they grow and develop, and encourage them to reach for their own dreams.
Like Mary, the hardest thing might be to release our grief, our feeling of loss. But over time, bit by bit, we learn to let go of the pain of that loss and live instead into loving memory, once again allowing ourselves to be surprised by joy. Mary’s moment of this release appeared to come in a moment. Releasing our losses will probably take a lifetime.
Try as we might, we cannot hold onto the flesh-and-blood Jesus.
Like Mary, we have to let go. Leave behind the alleluias and walk out of the graveyard. The night is over. The dawn has come We have been reawakened. As awake as we will ever be.
We have much to do and we might as well get started. Don’t hold on. Get moving. The eternal Word is becoming flesh once again.
And this time the flesh is ours.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2012