This article on John 20:17 is about the ascension of Jesus Christ.

Source: Clarion, 2013. 2 pages.

John 20:17 - Celebrating the Real Absence of Jesus

Do not hold on to me!

John 20:17

The bodily ascension of Jesus, for many believers, undoes the glory of his incarnation. What does the incar­nation mean but that the Son of God is with us, here on earth? We imagine what it must've been like for the dis­ciples to hear the voice of Jesus, to sense his touch, to see his reactions, the look of his eyes, and to become acquainted with his rich human per­sonality. It must've been, literally, a slice of heaven.

Even the sense that Jesus once walked on this earth creates a sense of nostalgia that entrepreneurs rec­ognize as a business opportunity. Trips are sold to "the holy land" with the invitation that you can walk where Jesus walked. It's not quite the same as having Jesus with us, but it's perhaps as close as we can get. The implication is that it's really too bad that Jesus is no longer here.

Roman Catholics stutter, theo­logically, at the thought of the bodily ascension by insisting on the physic­al presence of Jesus in their celebra­tions of the Mass. When you hold the wafer, you are said to be holding the body of Jesus. Here am I, in this world of sorrow, but Jesus is with me, in my hand. I can understand the ap­peal, and I'm sure you can too.

To those who envy the disciples, to those who endeavour to get close to Jesus by retracing his steps in Pal­estine, and to our Roman Catholic friends, we address the startling words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday: "Do not hold on to me!"

"Do not hold on to me!" Really? Poor Mary Magdalene had been so distraught by the death of this man who, like no other, understood her and still loved her profoundly. With tears streaming, she wanders through the bo­tanical garden of Joseph of Arimathea. Can you ever really enjoy the floral beauty of a cemetery? The flowers we plant simply hide the ugliness of death below, like the grim sepulchres of old superficially whitewashed.

"Do not hold on to me," Jesus says, "I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Jesus envisions his reunion with his Father, with whom he'd enjoyed infinite glory in mutual and eternal love. Equally staggering is that Jesus' Father is also Mary's Father, and the Father of all who put their trust in Christ. In the wake of Jesus' death, Mary weeps because she's lost a precious friend. But Jesus re­minds her that she's gained a remark­able family in which he, her Saviour, is her elder brother and God, her creator, is their Father. Jesus is returning to the family home, the Father's house with many rooms, and he's going to prepare a place for all his siblings.

I don't hide from the congregation (I pastor) my affection for Salt and Vin­egar chips. I once entered the apart­ment of an elderly parishioner for a pastoral visit and saw on the table, at which we'd typically sit, a bowl of Salt and Vinegar chips. Sensitively atten­tive to my peculiar preferences, this godly woman thoughtfully prepared an environment in which I could enjoy myself.

Hospitality is creating a home for those who are not at home. Elder brother Jesus, sensitive and attentive to our preferences, has gone to Father's house and is preparing a place for us. The place certainly includes heaven, but extends to include the new earth which we will inhabit with our Father.

"Do not hold on to me!" Jesus must go, must return to our Father, to complete his redemptive mission. He will go away in his humanity from this earth, our abode, to leave us with something even greater: the presence of our humanity in God's abode!

Children associate heaven with the skies. Greater theological sophistica­tion leads us to recognize heaven as God's space which in no way is limited geographically or cosmologically to the atmosphere above. The mystery about the precise location of Jesus, however, does not obscure the certainty of his presence in heaven and therefore the gospel of the ascension. The authors of the Heidelberg Catechism understood the significance with their celebra­tory exclamation:

We have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that he, our head, will also take us, his members up to himself!(LD 49)

"Do not hold on to me!" As you celebrate the ascension, remember to celebrate the real absence of Jesus. He's in heaven with our human­ity as a pledge of our similar future entrance into God's abode, and he's there to prepare a place for us. What a joy it'll be to be greeted by Brother Jesus at the Father's house! 

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