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
--John 20:17 NRSV
No, I’m not going to sing the song from Disney’s Frozen. If you’ve had young children in the last decade, please accept my apology for even bringing up the three words: let, it and go, because I know you’ve heard them sung so many times your ears bled. I need to bring up the idea of letting things go, because, well, Jesus brought up the idea long before Disney did.
We just celebrated Easter and heard John’s account of the resurrection read in worship. In John 20, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene near the tomb and after mistaking him for a gardener realizes he is in fact Jesus after he speaks her name. She apparently reached for him, because he tells her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to my father.” Geesh, Jesus, can’t you at least offer a hug? The woman thought you were dead and now you’re alive. Can’t you give her a moment? Apparently not, because Jesus is all business.
There have been volumes written about what Jesus’ resurrected body looked like and how it differed from Jesus’ body before his crucifixion. Why won’t Jesus let Mary touch him when he offers to let the disciples touch his wounds a short time later? It’s not really clear why Jesus didn’t let Mary hold on to him, but it is clear that important stuff was happening, and Jesus needed Mary to go tell the disciples he was alive again.
John writes that Jesus did a bunch of stuff after his resurrection, but apparently his time was limited. There was this whole business of him ascending to heaven. Churches that don’t have “high church” liturgy typically ignore the tradition of marking Jesus’ ascension with a special Sunday, but the ascension mattered a lot to John. In his gospel, Jesus refers to it on numerous occasions. Jesus would no longer be a teacher for the disciples alone but through the Holy Spirit would be present with all believers everywhere. Religion scholar Harvey Cox writes, “The early church’s belief in the Ascension can be read as its refusal to allow its Lord to be localized or spatially restricted. The Ascension in its simplest terms means that Jesus is mobile.“ From our 21st century outlook, we may not be dealing with the spatial understanding of the universe held by the first Christians but we can grasp that the way Jesus was present with his followers was changing from what it had been before.
In other words, for Jesus to do what was necessary for all people, Mary had to literally and figuratively let go of Jesus as she had previously known him. How much of life comes down to doing just that—letting go of people, places and things in order for God to do through us what is necessary and best?
How much of our pain and suffering comes from our inability to let go of past things both good and bad?
How much conflict exists in our relationships because we cannot allow others in our lives to change to become who they need to be?
This spiritual need to let go of what prevents us from being whom God needs us to be in the present and future (e.g. our truest self as created by God rather than the false selves we create for unhealthy reasons) is what Jesus describes in hyperbolic words earlier in John’s gospel: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Spiritual writers from various Christian traditions and even other religions speak of this same truth. Here are a few of them:
“You need to be liberated. Don’t carry over experiences from the past. In fact, don’t carry over good experiences from the past either. Learn what it means to experience something fully, then drop it and move on to the next moment, uninfluenced by the previous one. You’d be traveling with such little baggage that you could pass through the eye of a needle.”
--Anthony de Mello, Awareness
“I must relax my hold on everything that dulls my sense of God”
–Howard Thurman, from his poem “Let Go of Everything but God”
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.”
--Tao Te Ching
Whether or not the words “Let it go” make you cringe because of watching a Disney film a million times with your kids or not, take time this Easter season to ask what God needs you to let go of to be your truest and healthiest self both now and in the future.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.