When was the last time you mourned? Some of us have only a few distant moments we can remember, while for others, mourning seems all too familiar. Mourning is an honest and raw expression of grief, sadness, and loss. It can hit us square in the chest, in the most unexpected moments, and from those periods of mourning onward, our worlds never quite feel the same again.
That’s where we find Mary on Easter morning in John 20:11-17. Weeping, she bends to look into Jesus’ tomb, and cannot find his body. She meets two angels sitting in the tomb, and explains to them that she doesn’t know where they’ve put him. Turning around, she meets Jesus face-to-face, and believes he is a gardener. He speaks her name, and immediately she realizes that it’s Jesus.
Overwhelmed with emotion, we can presume that Mary embraced Jesus, because he then responds, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Moments before, Mary was mourning the loss of Jesus. She believed not only that he was dead, but also that someone had stolen his body. So it makes sense that she felt overwhelmed with emotion and clung to him. In some ways it sounds harsh for Jesus to tell Mary to let him go — until we understand the true meaning of those words.
“I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus wasn’t just being wordy — he was trying to point us to another text that Mary would have known very well.
The widow Naomi directs her two widowed daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their childhood homes. In Ruth 1:14-18 Orpah turns back, but Ruth instead proclaims, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.”
“Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” — Ruth 1:16
“I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” — John 20:17
Jesus tells Mary to release him, not because he doesn’t love and care for her deeply, because her clinging is inappropriate, or because she is self-sufficient enough on her own. He tells her not to cling to him because he needs to ascend to God. And in ascending to God, he offers Mary the same promise that Ruth made to Naomi.
Wherever Mary goes, Jesus will go; wherever Mary stays, Jesus will stay. Her people are his people, and her God is his God. And now that he has resurrected, even the power of death will never separate them again.
That’s the hope that Jesus offers us on Easter: not that we will never mourn and grieve, not that life becomes perfect and infallible, but that He remains with us through every trial, sigh, and tear. His resurrection breaks the final barrier of death.
In those moments when we feel completely alone and abandoned, when we wonder where God is, and how we will ever get through the trials and difficulties that we face, Jesus offers us this promise, and we remember it on Easter Sunday: Wherever we go, Jesus goes; wherever we stay, Jesus stays. Our people are his people, and our God is His God. And now even death cannot separate us from the his true and unending love.