Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
Touch me not!
I have not yet ascended. . . .
But I ascend!
Also this, that the risen Lord was not the ascended One, the disciples must learn to recognize, and that, too, before anything else was revealed unto them concerning the reality of the resurrection of their Lord: reason, perhaps, why this manifestation to Mary precedes all other appearances, and why Mary is enjoined to return to the brethren with the message: “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”
Ever new, and ever more profoundly marvelous, is the revelation of the risen Christ.
For, to disciples that did not anticipate His resurrection, least of all the resurrection on the third day, although He had so plainly spoken to them about it, the Lord must reveal Himself. The reality of His resurrection must be established in their minds and hearts, that they may be His witnesses, and go forth into the world with the message of salvation: ‘The Lord is risen indeed!” Yet, the “otherness” of His resurrection must also be impressed upon them, and they must recognize that, by rising from the dead, He had not returned to them to reestablish the former mode of communion in His earthly flesh. And, finally, they must clearly understand that His resurrection did not mean that He had already ascended. Glorious though that resurrection was, it was not final: He must still ascend.
And various were the means through which this full and clear revelation of the risen Lord was accomplished.
There was the silent testimony of the empty tomb, that had been opened for inspection by the angel of the Lord who, very early on that wonderful first day of the week, had rolled away the stone from the sepulcher, and “sat on it.” For that vacated tomb was witness not only of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, seeing that He had departed in the body, but also, by the “place where the Lord lay,” and the mystery of the linen clothes, lying still in the very position in which they had been wrapped around the buried Lord, of its wonder and otherness.
There was the vision of angels, waiting in the tomb for the women who, in the early morning after the sabbath, had come, prepared with spices and ointments, to perform a final service of love upon the dead body of their Master. They, these heavenly messengers, had preached to them the first resurrection gospel: “He is not here, for He is risen!” And the women had left, utterly amazed, yet filled with great joy because they that had come to seek the dead had found the living One.
And, finally, there were the manifestations of the risen Lord in person, ten of which are recorded.
Nor were these appearances all the same. On the contrary, each differs from the others, and reveals a certain aspect of the resurrection of our Lord. Each has its own peculiar meaning, teaches its own lesson. How different is His revelation to Mary from that of Thomas! To the former He says: “Touch me not!” The latter He invited to touch Him.
All, though differing in detail, carry the double message: He is risen from the dead, yet He is not with us as before.
And they are all introduced by the manifestation to the Magdalene, warning them that, though He is risen in glory, He has not yet ascended.
Resurrection and ascension are inseparable: I ascend!
The one must follow the other.
Yet, they dare not be confused: I have not yet ascended!
Touch me not!
I have not yet ascended!
But I ascend!
And who could have been better adapted to receive this particular aspect of the revelation of the risen Lord, or who was more in need of it, than the Magdalene?
She, more than any other of the disciples, was attached to her Lord, to His earthly appearance. Her soul cried out for that peculiar form of fellowship with Him to which she had become accustomed, and which she had now lost. She longed to be with Him, to touch Him. . . .
All her movements and actions, on that early morning of the resurrection day, testify to this strong longing of her soul.
With the other women, she had left her home that morning for the tomb in Joseph’s garden, to finish the embalming of the body of her beloved Master, though, unknown to her as well as to the other women, this had been accomplished quite properly and thoroughly, by Joseph and Nicodemus, on that sad sabbath eve of the burial. On the way, they had become anxious about the heavy stone that had been rolled in front of the sepulcher to close its entrance. But even from a distance they had noticed that the stone had been removed, and that the grave was open!
For the Magdalene this had been sufficient evidence!
She proceeded no further with the other women, but immediately drawing to the conclusion that they had removed the body of Jesus, she ran to the disciples, and reported: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him.”
Peter and John had hastened to the grave to verify this report. They, too, must inspect the empty tomb, and behold the wonder of the linen clothes, and the false report of the Magdalene must be the means to draw them thither. They see, and believe.
More slowly Mary had followed. To the empty tomb, to the body of her Lord she is irresistibly drawn.
She arrives in the garden after Peter and John had inspected the grave, and had departed. Alone she was with the sorrow of her soul, and the anxious question that troubled her mind, concerning the whereabouts of the body of her Master.
Little we know about Mary.
The name Magdalene only informs us that she was from Magdala. We do know, however, that the Lord had mightily delivered her out of great misery: from the torment of seven devils He had saved her. And ever since, her life had been completely devoted to her Savior. To follow Him as He traversed the land, to serve Him in His earthly needs, had been her delight. The service of love had been her very life. Without this service she was lost. To be with Him, to see Him and hear His voice, to prepare His food for Him when He was hungry, and provide a place of rest when He was weary, and thus to give expression to the gratitude that filled her heart,—that had been the joy of her soul.
O, to be sure, deep in her soul she was interested in the things concerning the kingdom of God. No doubt, she had loved to listen to the Master, as the words of eternal life flowed from His lips. But she had not understood much of His teaching. About any particular conception of the redemption of Israel she was not deeply troubled. To what He had said about His suffering and death, and His resurrection on the third day, she had not paid too much attention. To Jesus, in His earthly appearance, as she knew Him, she was attached, and if only she might be with Him, her soul was satisfied.
Such was the form her love of the Master had assumed hitherto.
This may explain her attitude on that memorable first day of the week.
For with the death of Jesus, the object of her love and interest had been taken away from her. All that was left was His dead body. To perform one last act of love upon that body was now her sole comfort. Hence, her persistent search for that body. She speaks of the body as if it were the Lord in person. To Peter and John she reports: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher.” In answer to the question of the angels: “Woman, why weepest thou?” she states: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and 1 know not where they have laid him.” Her whole mind is concentrated on the body of her Lord. For nothing else she has a thought. The appearance of the two angels, sitting in the sepulcher, evidently does not strike her as strange or extraordinary. And “the gardener,” too, she supposes to be well acquainted with her trouble: “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away,” Nor does it seem absurd or improper to her that she will take the body of her Lord back to its place in Joseph’s tomb.
O, the other women, too, had been attached to their Lord in His earthly appearance. They, too, had come to perform a last service of love upon the dead body.
None of them had been mindful of the words of their Master concerning (His resurrection on the third day.
But all this was especially true of the Magdalene.
She must see and touch and serve Him once more!
Though it be only in His body!
Touch me not!
I have not yet ascended. . . .
But I ascend!
For a revelation of the risen Lord it was indeed.
She did not know Him. Seeking the dead body of her Master, she did not recognize her living Lord when she met Him face to face.
Having replied to the question of the angels that were in the tomb, she turned about, attracted, probably, by some sound behind her, “and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.” She supposed Him to be the gardener.
Nor must this failure on her part to recognize Jesus simply be explained from her sorrow, or from the fact that her exclusive concentration on the dead body of the Lord blinded her eyes. O, she would have known Him at once, no doubt, had He appeared as she had always seen Him before His death.
But the Lord had risen. He was different. In “the likeness of sinful flesh” she had known Him; in the glory of immortality He had come forth from the grave. Instead of corruption there was now incorruption, instead of weakness power, instead of dishonor glory. The “psychical” body had been changed into the spiritual body.
And even this does not explain Mary’s failure to recognize Him, still less the fact that she supposed Him to be the gardener. Evidently, she did not see Him in His resurrection glory: for this she had no eyes. Nor did she behold Him as He appeared that same evening in the company of the disciples, who thought that they saw a ghost. Purposely, He appeared to Mary, as the “gardener” that she might not recognize Him at once. She must, indeed, know that He had risen from the dead, but from the outset she must learn, too, that He was “other”, that His resurrection did not open the way to the same association and fellowship as before, and which she craved with all her soul.
“Woman, why weepest thou?”
“Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”
Already Mary had turned her attention to the grave once more, but at the sound of her name, there is instant recognition, and turning herself she is ready to fall down, and clasp His feet, exclaiming: “Rabboni!”
Not by the sight of the eye, but by the sound of His Word, addressed personally to her, she found the risen Lord!
Thus it must needs be henceforth. The former fellowship was severed, never to return.
To be replaced by the higher fellowship of the Spirit, through the Word.
Touch me not!
I have not yet ascended.
But I ascend!
This, too, Mary must still learn.
Would she, the impulsive Mary, who had so readily concluded from the distant sight of the open grave that they had taken away the body of Jesus, not now at once infer that all was finished, that He had already ascended, and that He had now come again to take her to Himself, that she might also be where He is?
Had he not spoken thus before His death?
Was not this hope, the hope that, if she could no longer enjoy the former fellowship, she might at once stay with Him, with the glorified Lord, and return with Him to the house of Father, in her heart, as she was about to embrace Him?
Touch me not!
Make no mistake, Mary! It is not thus, that I have already ascended to the house of my Father, and that I have now returned, in order to take thee with me into glory. The former fellowship is severed. The final fellowship in glory is not yet come. I have not yet ascended and returned.
But I do ascend!
Tell my brethren that I have risen, but must still ascend. Tell them that I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God!
In those words there is the promise of a new and altogether glorious and blessed fellowship, that will be established through His ascension, and before the final return in glory!
By His Spirit, through His Word!