“Do not hold on to me”
The Rev. Keely Franke
April 24, 2011
A couple weeks ago we took some of our senior high youth on a retreat up to St. John’s in Collegeville. The Episcopal Church has a wonderful retreat house there. But as retreats go you can’t spend your whole time retreating and praying, that would just be too much. So Saturday afternoon in the middle of it we headed off to find something fun to do. I’m still not sure how this happened but I was the adult who ended up taking the youth climbing at the climbing wall at St. John’s.
We entered the climbing area filled with young college students having a fine old time and I found myself feeling the urge to enter into this fun. Or at least to prove to the youth and to myself that I could do it. Even though I was the oldest person in the room I wasn’t that old after all. We got our shoes, put our harnesses on and suddenly the rubber hit the road, it was time to climb.
I wasn’t two feet up when I started to panic. Looking up was almost worse than looking down. It was soooo far up and even at two feet it already seemed really far down. I began to tremble and my hands turned white and the veins in my arms stuck out as I gripped the wall and held on for dear life. The young man belaying me, the guy holding onto the rope that is, encouraged me to just let go. To not hold on to the wall and see what happened. I looked down at him and basically told him he was crazy if he thought I was going to let go of this wall.
Today in the gospel we have a whirlwind of events. Jesus has died and been laid in the tomb. Mary Magdalene gets up early in the morning on the third day when it’s still dark out to go and check on him. When she arrives she finds the tomb empty, and grief and panic set in. The only logical conclusion she comes to is that someone must have taken the body. And off she runs to go tell the others. A race ensues between Peter and the other disciple, John. John wins, of course, perhaps better earning him the name St. John the Runner instead of St. John the Evangelist.
Upon arrival, though, John is afraid to enter the tomb and so Peter goes in first. Sure enough Jesus is no longer there. They found the linens he was wrapped in
lying there and assumed he mustn’t have been taken. But they weren’t really sure what happened to him. They left Mary behind and went home. Mary Magdalene, the consistent figure who shows up first in all four gospels, stays back and weeps for him.
Just then two angels show up and then a “gardener” who we know to be Jesus but she does not yet. They address her as “woman” first, a term of endearment Jesus used for his mother as well. Then Jesus says her name, “Mary.” He says “Mary” as one who knows not only her name but as one who knows her intimately. Immediately Mary recognizes Jesus and collapses into his arms. She proclaims “Rabbouni”, which is a sort of nickname for a Rabbi one is very familiar with. Like when students have a nickname for a beloved teacher in school.
To Mary’s surprise Jesus’ first words are, “Do not hold on to me.” Then Jesus say, “go.” Go and tell my family I am here and she does.
Jesus’ resurrection surpasses our understanding still today and we can imagine Mary’s shock and surprise. And yet we get it because we experience it in our everyday lives. Every day we practice dying and rising to new life.
If you live in Minnesota you really get resurrection. And if you are here visiting today and need a little proof, consider moving here for just a year. In the dead of winter it amazes me that there could ever be life here again. What could possibly live through this kind of cold and snow, including my southern self? And yet year after year there is summer again. The tulip bulbs have to die before there can be tulips. The leaves can’t hold on either, they have to let go in the fall before they can come back in the spring.
Every time we say goodbye to someone, too, we practice dying. We practice trusting that our time together was not for naught. That somehow our time together gives life to something new in our futures.
“Don’t hold on to me”, Jesus says, and yet we hold on to so much. We hold on to our pride, our egos, our disappointments, our resentment, our guilt, our stuff. We don’t want to let go of people we have loved who have either decided to go on living in this world without us or who have died. We hold on out of fear like our lives depend on it, when really our lives depend on us letting go.
I did make it to the top of that first wall I climbed and back down again. And after about 30 minutes I finally stopped shaking and decided I wanted to climb one more time. I wanted to do it this time without the fear, trusting I could do it.
This wall was higher and more difficult largely because I was so worn out. I realized early on I couldn’t hold on the whole time and I would have to let go countless of times before I’d be able to make it to the top. The first time I let go of my grip, I was surprised. Nothing happened. I just hung there in mid air. The young man belaying me on the ground smiled up at me with words of encouragement and the youth cheered me on. The word “belay” means “to hold.” As far as I understand it includes the rope and all the equipment, but the most important piece to me was the person holding the rope on the ground.
This time after a series of letting go, and with a little bit of his help pulling me up, I hit the cow bell at the top of the ceiling with great joy. Then I kicked off the wall for a beautiful ride down.
“Don’t hold on to me,” Jesus says to Mary, and then he says “go.” Go tell what you have seen and experienced when you let go of your fear and despair. Go tell them that Christ is risen from the dead. I wonder what or whom you are holding onto this Easter morning? Is it finally time to release your grip, to let go? Jesus has conquered death, we don’t have to be afraid anymore. God’s got us and God won’t let go. Amen.