Don’t Hold On, Move On! - John 20:1-18
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.’”
I had to have been in middle school. We went to the lake as usual for the weekend. For some reason we weren’t doing my favorite activity at Kerr Lake—crappie fishing—we were doing my cousin’s favorite lake pastime….water skiing. Almost everyone on my dad’s side of the family skied. My dad, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and even my grandmother (and if it wasn’t for his bad knee, my grandfather would have skied—he drove the boat to pull all the others). I finally decided, after much encouragement from everyone, to give it a try. With my life jacket on, I eased into the lake, worked the skis onto my feet, grab hold of the rope, and told them to go. I wish I could tell you from the moment the boat began to pull away that I was a natural. I wish I could tell you that Sea World contacted me about joining their ski team. However, I can’t truthfully tell you any of that. I can tell you that the boat started up, began pulling, and I didn’t even come up out of the water, I came completely out of my skis…and of all things, I refused to let go of the rope. I held on for dear life, and in the process must have strained half of Kerr Lake through my teeth.
How often do we hold on to things we need to let go of?
One of the things that we most often hold on to that we need to let go of is the past. Maybe we want things to be the way they always have been. We have been happy with how things have been and we want them to stay that way. Maybe we are afraid of what the future might hold, that we possibly might find ourselves lost. We are uncertain if we can handle anything different. Maybe we are afraid of losing a connection to what has been so good to us before.
These may have been the reason for how things played out in our Scripture reading this Easter morning. Mary has gone to the tomb. She wanted to spend time with Jesus. She knew he wasn’t alive. She just wanted to be near him. Maybe it would seem like it used to be. She still remembered how He had freed her from her life of bondage to the demons that had possessed her. Mary knew that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had laid Jesus in the tomb in this garden, so the first chance she had, she stole away to the tomb. Yet when she arrived, her hopes of getting to be near Jesus, of things being the way they were before, were dashed to the ground. The stone was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. She had run back and told Peter and the unnamed disciple. She ran with them back to the tomb and watched as they had gone in…not only was the stone moved, Jesus was gone.
The men left, but she did not want to move, she did not want to leave. This is the last place Jesus had been. If she held on to this place, she, in some sense, could hold on to Jesus. Suddenly, through her tears, Mary made out two figures who asked her why she was crying…she told them that someone had taken Jesus away. Finally, as she held so tightly to the belief that the one she loved so deeply was dead, she turned and saw another man. Was it her tears, a change in his appearance, or her tight hold on the fact that Jesus was dead that blinded her to his appearance? We don’t know, we just know that she thought he was a gardener and questioned him about where Jesus might be.
Suddenly Mary’s tight grip on reality was completely shaken. The man spoke her name, “Mary!” She knew that call. It was the name that called her out of years of demonic torment into a new life of discipleship. It was him! It was Jesus! He was back. Things could go back to the way they had always been. She fell at his feet and grabbed hold of his ankles. She would never let go of him again. She would never let him out of her sight. She would hold on to him and follow him wherever he went.
The next words that Jesus spoke to her had to have cut into her like a knife. “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” “Do not hold on to me…” In those words Jesus told her what she did not want to hear. Things were not going to be the same…things had changed…and He was not going to stay in that garden with her. Jesus, in a sense, was saying “the past is the past, and we are not there anymore.”
However, Jesus did not just stop and telling Mary not to hold on to Him. Jesus told her what she needed to do. “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.’” Jesus was telling Mary it is not time to hold on, but it is time to move on. “Don’t hold on to me…But go….”
In a sense, my brothers and sisters, that is what the Resurrection says to all of us. The past is behind us and we have to let go of it and move on to the future. We cannot hold on to the way things always have been…Jesus comes into our lives and changes things. Jesus pulls us out of the past into His plans for the future. He says, “do not hold on, but go…things are never going to be the same.” What we are missing in this passage is what goes with his ascension. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had promised His disciples that He had to return to the Father, but when He did, He would send the Holy Spirit to them, and through the Spirit’s guidance, they would remember all that He had taught them, and they would continue the ministry they had begun with Jesus. In fact, Jesus said, once the Spirit has been poured out, now only will you do all that we have done together, you will do even greater things.
Jesus is telling Mary, let go of the past…and move on to a glorious future that is in store for you, the disciples, and the world.
My friends, what of our past are we holding on to…
Sometimes we are just holding on to wanting things to be the way they always have been…we are like Mary, we just want things to stay the same…the past, the old ways, they were good…they feel comfortable…and we want to feel comfortable…to change means to risk being uncomfortable.
Sometimes the part of our past (and present) that we hold on to are not so good, but we are afraid to let go.
We hold onto addictions for fear of the pain, loneliness, or emptiness that might fill us if we try to release them.
We hold onto grudges and bitterness, because we are afraid that we will be seen as weak if we forgive.
We hold on to abusive relationships because it may be all that we know, because we think we deserve the abuse, because we are afraid we might not make it, or we are afraid that we will end up alone.
We hold on to failure and are afraid to try to take on any project or task, because we are certain that we can’t do it.
We hold on to disabilities and use them as an excuse as to why we cannot do anything or why we are mad at the world.
But the resurrection of Jesus comes and tells us to let go of the past, let go of all the aches and pains, let go of all the fears and failures, let go of all the excuses, and even let go of the good things, and move on into an amazing future that is beyond anything we can ever imagine. Jesus says to each of us I know that the past has contained both happiness and sorrow, and we hold on to some of it all, but it is time to let go and enter the joy of the Resurrection, enter a future that will change our lives forever, because Jesus has ascended to the Father, poured out His Spirit, and offered us a future that, truthfully, is a brand new beginning and true life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.