When Mary listens to the voice of the risen Jesus, her perspective on the events in the garden changes. She no longer understands the empty tomb as a manifestation of death, but as testimony to the power and possibilities of life.
In the parable of the shepherd in John 10, Jesus said, ”[The shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . The sheep follow him because they know his voice” (10:3—4). Jesus called Lazarus by name to summon him from the tomb (11:43), and now his voice summons Mary to new life.
Mary may have attempted to embrace Jesus after she recognized him, because he says to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father” (20:17).
Jesus’ words may strike some readers as unnecessarily harsh, as a cruel rebuke to Mary’s expression of joyous recognition. To read these words as cold and harsh is to misread them, however, and to overlook their import.
Jesus’ command, “Do not hold on to me, ” is the first post-resurrection teaching. When he speaks these words, Jesus teaches Mary that he cannot and will not be held and controlled.
One cannot hold Jesus to preconceived standards and expectations of who he should be, because to do so is to interfere with Jesus’ work and thereby limit what Jesus has to offer.
If Mary had stopped Jesus from ascending to God, holding him with her in the garden, the Easter story would be incomplete.
Jesus’ prohibition to Mary thus actually contains the good news of Easter: Do not hold on to me, but let me be free so that I can give you the fullness of what I have to offer.
Women’s Bible Commentary, Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, Editors, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1992.