“Do not cling to me,..”

John 20:17

Do not cling to me,..”

John 20:17

To ‘cling’ is to embrace deeply.

How could she not cling to you?

You were all she had. Every other man used her like a towel and tossed her out to dry. “When you died, Jesus, there was no one left who cared.”

This seems so out of character for the compassionate Shepherd. Was it not He who said like a mother hen, He would have gathered the children of Israel under His wings. Why then would Jesus not let Mary hug Him at His gravesite?

I think there is something in this scene that is relevant for today.

Most of us have experienced the death of a loved one, whether a friend or family member. We know the haunting feeling of loss–no more companion, no more embrace. An eerie sense of emptiness settles in like an unwanted visitor who refuses to leave.

But in Mary’s case, the painful despair of loss vanished as soon as she saw the face of Jesus and heard Him call her by name. All she had to give Him was her embrace, but Jesus refused her. Instead, he told her not to cling (hug tightly) to Him. He then gave her the assignment to tell His brothers.

How does this relate to today?

When George Floyd was murdered the watching world went into shock. We all agreed that this was an unjust act. As Americans we were in it together, like 9-11, our soil was attacked by injustice.

It was against the very fabric of our nation—“with liberty and justice for all”– was slapped in the face by an assailant who suffocated mother mercy under the force of his knee. We were shocked because this was not supposed to happen, no matter how corrupt the police had been accused, this was unacceptable.

It was time for a change. No sooner did we catch our collective breath that change did come, but not as we hoped. Within 24 hours Covid was a non-issue as buildings began to burn and stores looted in cities across America. Violence and chaos were rampaging throughout the land as justice had fallen in the streets, just as Isaiah prophesied. Clearly there was much going on in the demonic realm where darkness became their cover.

The church slowly began to respond in different places and online prayer groups gathered. Most of us shuddered to think about what could be next. All of us needed comfort.

But where was Jesus? Just when the church needed a collective hug, where was He?

Since every Sunday school kid knows that answer, let’s consider another question.

Where are you?

I have seen a strange thing happen that brings me back to Jesus and Mary Magdalene at the borrowed tomb. It is in the missing hug.

When our lives went on hold from Covid, separation became a strange normal. We were soon told to stay at home unless you are essential. Then wear a mask and stay six feet apart. Churches were not allowed to open for gatherings; so online sites became the new meeting place.

Hugs became virtual.

Many devotions and messages were focused on ‘fear not’, which was the first clear indication that fear was a deeply rooted unattended issue that had been newly aroused. Why was that?

As the days went on and the death toll seemed to go down, many Christians began to wonder if the State had gone too far and interfered with the Bible’s admonition to “assemble together especially when you see that day coming.” As soon as the restrictions shrunk, permission was given for churches to gather outside practice social distance.

Not.

This became the time for many Christians to publicly proclaim that Covid has nothing on us. We love each other and its time to show it. All well and good, but something unnoticed was taking place. The huggers were in attendance, but other former attendees were not. Since nature abhors a vacuum there had to be a good reason for something not discussed. That is where the religious spirit seized access in the minds of many Christians.

The religious spirit is also a “familiar spirit.” Because of that, it is hard to detect.

The undetected narrative declared that hugging was an issue of faith. Those who walked in faith were those who decided to “obey God and not man,” as if this was courage in the face of persecution.

As church history has taught us, it doesn’t take much to divide. That has been how denominations were born. In the past it was baptism—the dunkers and the sprinklers—or the gifts are for today—or not.  

The huggers and the distancers could be the next denominational split.

Here’s why I say that.

Not long ago, I received an email from a young Christian I had not seen for a long time. For confidentiality, I will use the female pronoun. We met unexpectedly at her workplace. Here is a snippet of the letter she wrote weeks later.

“As you were climbing out of the car, the only thing you said was, “No hugs! No hugs! No hugs!”  (that was what she heard me say!)

And I understood in that moment that I had become an Untouchable along with the rest of the world.  Someone to be feared as a carrier of a disease rather than to be seen as a person.

What has bothered me about this is the fear I felt coming from you and the intense need for self preservation… 

…The reason the fear and self-preservation have troubled me so is because it speaks against things I have heard you say for years.  You’ve told many to not fear– He will protect you. You mentioned that God knows the number of our days and so we can leave them in His hands and walk in peace…

…I have long regarded you as a man of faith and wisdom. I have worked to take to heart the insights you have shared with me over the years, yet, when I looked at you that day, I did not feel you actually believe your own words. That what you have shared with me as certain truths are not, in fact, deep truths for you at all.  That day I went where no one could see me and wept.

I have searched my heart and have asked the Lord to forgive me for putting you on any kind of a spiritual pedestal… However, I beg you to stand well for the sake of all us coming behind you.  

…I too am struggling to fight fear and despair. To see hope instead of impending doom, and I wish this time to show me that the pillars of faith I have looked to over the years are sturdy in storms as well as calm.  

I had foolishly thought that the church, the very body of Christ, would be a refuge in this crisis, but it is proving otherwise. Those I thought would stand strong in faith, in hospitality, in a comforting display of reaching beyond fear to embrace those around them, have yet to be convincing. Instead we are locked into the same bickering and suspicion of others that the world is operating in.  I cannot think Christ is very pleased.”

Here is part of my response;

“Thank you for your courage to write me about your concern and for your honesty. I am sure others think the same, which troubles me.

First of all, I do not fear the Covid or any other disease out there. We have come to our decision after careful consideration and the understanding that God has given us. We have read the controversies and knew our decision could be costly because of the reaction that Christians were beginning to have and the polarization that had begun. 

To your point, I believe that Covid is real and has killed many people mostly those in a vulnerable condition and elderly.”

In brief, I told her that I don’t hug because I don’t want to be a carrier to someone vulnerable. I also said this:

“When this global pandemic unfolded, isolation became mandated and I began to sense the Lord’s mercy on the church. The time was so unusual that no one seemed to know what it meant, but we were all in it together—the just and the unjust—the rain had begun to fall. It was an opportune moment to be a Believer and a member of the family of faith.

These are unparalleled times in America and the church could have been prepared for it if we had been paying attention previously. Instead of acting out of eagerness to gather again, we should have dealt with the issues of the heart personally.

Instead of being slow to speak and eager to listen to His voice, we began tossing verses out regarding fear. Yet we continue to live in fear as a church. Being afraid is not abnormal, but living in fear is not a trait that God has given us.”

Back to the tomb.  Imagine you are Mary.

Jesus had not just become her Savior. Before He met her she depended on the men who used and abused her to feed her, clothe her, and house her. When she exchanged them for Him, He became her source of all that and more—He protected healed, instructed, empowered, and befriended her. He brought her into society as an equally valued member. When she called Jesus Rabboni, it was the ultimate title of honor and admiration. He was not only her Rabbi, Jesus was her future.

But…He did not want her to hug him.

Why is this even recorded in The Greatest Story ever told? It’s so unlike Him, or is it?

After all, Jesus was the most Christ-centered person that ever lived!

He must have wanted more for Mary. If Jesus was Rabboni, He was teaching her something she had not known and did not want her to be distracted from the moment.

So He told her what to do and what to say. In doing so, He turned her attention to things eternal—the Kingdom of God and the urgency of the day.

She needed to become confident that though He would soon be invisible to her, He would always be with her–critical for her future.

I believe we are in a parallel moment in history and wonder if the church has missed her opportunity. If so we need desperately to catch up, like a jockey on the last lap, we need to pull up the reigns as we race to the finish line. I am talking spiritually. We cannot define our reality if we are to follow Jesus. We will not only be disappointed, but fearful.

Pastors and leaders have to be willing to make corrections. Clarity of purpose and purity of intention is critical for the day.

There is a day coming when we will hug each other appropriately without fear of contagion and it will proceed from the depths of our being. That is a precursor to another day when Yeshua, Rabboni will embrace His own like no other day and like no other hug.  

Those hugs are worth the wait.

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