“Do not hold on to me…”
Rather, she was to inform the disciples that the resurrected Christ would soon be ascending to God.
In her sermon last week, Molly reminded us of Bishop Fisher’s words at our most recent diocesan convention. He reflected: “...[Mary] just wanted the old body back, and the gardener turned out to be the Risen Jesus. She embraces him but the Risen Jesus tells her he needs to keep on moving. But tell the disciples he is Risen. And she becomes the apostle to the apostles…We, too, want the old body back. 2019. Or 1955. But, the old body is gone and Resurrection to something unknown and a little scary is here. And Mary Magdalene goes with this new reality and gives a message to the apostles that changes the world.”*
Mary Magdalene could have remained stuck in her fear, grief, and uncertainty, continuing to yearn for and cling to the old body. Instead, she embraces this new reality, and takes Christ’s instruction to heart: ‘Do not hold on to me…’ She shares Christ’s message to the disciples; a message that turns this world upside down and right side up again, as our Presiding Bishop likes to say.
Which brings us to today’s gospel lesson. It is now evening on that very same day. Having received Mary Magdalene’s messages, the disciples are now gathered in a house, behind locked doors. John’s gospel states it was their fear that locked them in.
Fear of the news they’ve just received and its implications.
Fear of how leaders within the Judean community might respond.
Fear for their safety.
Fear of what was to come.
Fear of everything.
These disciples, who had dedicated their lives to helping Jesus’ share God’s dream for this world, have now locked themselves behind closed doors.
This is most certainly a temptation we have all faced at one juncture or another. The unknown can leave us feeling terrified and stuck. It is also a ripe environment for nostalgia. When we feel like things are falling apart and beyond our control, many of us long for the safety of the familiar, a yearning for the way things used to be. That same desire that initially left Mary longing to cling to the old body.
In her book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown unpacks the dangers of nostalgia. She writes,
“Across our research, nostalgia emerged as a double-edged sword, a tool for both connection and disconnection. It can be an imaginary refuge from a world we don’t understand and a dog whistle used to resist important growth in families, organizations, and the broader culture and to protect power, including white supremacy.
I wish things were the way they used to be in the good ol’ days.’
What’s not spoken:
When people knew their places.
When there was no accountability for the way my behaviors affect other people.
When we ignored other people’s pain if it caused us discomfort.
When my authority was absolute and never challenged.” **
Nostalgia may at first seem harmless on the surface. Yet it can be a mask for our desire for control, power, and an excuse for pursuing our own selfish desires above the needs of the wider community.
Like Mary, when she went to the tomb, we may want to cling to the old body. Like the disciples, locked in the house, we may want to remain in our fear; yearning for some false illusion of safety, ignoring the impermanent nature of a life of faith. Yet we know Mary embraces the new reality of the resurrection, and in today’s gospel, we see the disciples do the same.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the resurrected Christ appears in the locked house. The risen Christ offers the disciples a familiar greeting, and then shows them his hands and his side. They rejoice.
While Acts of the Apostles describes the Holy Spirit being shared with the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, John’s gospel describes it taking place at this moment in today’s lesson. Christ breathed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. In doing so, Christ has empowered them to share the Good News of God’s love and dream for this world, through the forgiveness of sins. The hour had come for the disciples to abandon their fear and uncertainty, in order to embrace this new reality. While they may not have yet understood the full meaning of this new reality, the disciples chose to trust in the hope and promise of the resurrected Christ. They knew they must move forward in faith, whatever that may mean.
John’s gospel continues by telling us one of the disciples, Thomas the Twin, was not present when this all took place. When the disciples shared what had happened with him, Thomas explained he could not believe without seeing for himself.
The following week, the risen Christ appeared again at the house where the disciples were shut up together in the same house (though not locked up, so they've grown a little). Christ greeted them, and then instructed Thomas to touch his hands and side. This moves Thomas to believe.
The resurrected Christ then says something that was important for the disciples to hear, and even more important for us to hear. The risen Christ says,
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
While we sometimes like to offer judgemental commentary on Thomas’ kinesthetic need to see and touch to believe, I do not think that the point of this story is to judge Thomas’ learning style. Rather, I think the resurrected Christ was offering a message to everyone who would come after the disciples, meaning every generation after, including ours. Christ was blessing us for believing even though we did not bear witness to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the empty tomb, or encounter the resurrected Christ. We walk by faith, with each generation building upon the faith of those who have gone before us.
Friends, this is exactly what we are here to do today. In just a few minutes, one of our parish’s little ones, Simon Cox, will be baptized and welcomed into the household of God. In our tradition, we welcome infants and little ones to be baptized because the parents, sponsors, and local faith community commit to raising the child in faith. We promise to believe on their behalf, to support, encourage, and foster their faith. Then when they have grown up and become young adults, they can decide whether or not to choose this path for themselves in a confirmation liturgy.
Today Simon’s parents, sponsors, and our parish are committing to believe on his behalf. As a faith community, each and every time we baptize a little one or a young person, we are promising that we will be there for them as the body of Christ.
When little ones and youth are ready, they too will take on the mantle of faith along with the rest of the community, to support the next generation of the faithful.
…we join Mary Magdalene in stepping away from our uncertainty to embrace a new reality.
…we join the disciples in releasing our fears and nostalgia to receive the Holy Spirit as our guide.
…we join the generations of the faithful who have gone before us, believing even though we have not seen or known firsthand.
…we do all this as the body of Christ.
As we prepare to head back into the world today, I would encourage us to do some reflecting this week:
* The Rt. Rev. Doug Fisher, Diocesan Convention address, Diocese of Western Massachusetts, October 2022
We are blessed to have a diversity of preaching voices in our parish. Our guild of preachers is a mixture of lay and clergy. We hope you enjoy the varied voices.
Meet our Preachers