John 20: 11 – 18
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 round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
When Mary first arrived at the tomb she did not know what to do, so she went to get Peter, and the disciple Jesus loved to show them the puzzling scene, to see what they made of it. Now, after they had come, seen it, and returned home, she is left alone, outside the tomb again. Whether she came to continue Jesus’ burial rites or just to be near his body and pray, she is stuck, unable to do either.
So she breaks down, entirely understandably, in front of the entrance where the rock once was. To her surprise, she is not alone. The angels had not been there when Peter and the other disciple had peered into the darkened tomb. They lead her to turn around and see a strange, but familiar figure. Her initial thought is that Jesus is the gardener. Remember Gethsemane? Jesus was compared to Adam there, and is again here. He is the gardener, with dominion over the earth. He is charged with creating order out of the disorder that the world has brought to itself. Mary still, however, does not know or understand who he is.
But the gentle, teasing rebuke of Mary is enough. She knows at once but Jesus quickly establishes that he has been changed in his resurrection. This “do not hold onto me” has puzzled scholars. It does not appear to mean that there has been some physical change, as otherwise the story of Thomas feeling Jesus’ wounds from the cross would not make sense. So it must be more that their relationship has been altered. He would no longer lead them, travelling around Judea, sharing meals and teaching. He is preparing her, and his disciples when she tells them later on, that he would be leaving them soon. He is not long for this world.
The language Jesus uses when talking to Mary here is important too. While he has previously referred to God as his father, he now refers to him as our father, his God and our God. There is a new level of intimacy between us and God the Father which appears to have been unlocked through Jesus’ death. This is reminiscent of the Prodigal Son story in Luke again (as in the previous passage). Jesus’ story of a son rejecting his inheritance and venturing into a new land would have resonated with his Jewish listeners as being parallel to the Exodus story. Jesus has now fulfilled this, enabling a closer relationship with God than had ever previously been thought possible.