Vos: “Touch Me Not” Was A Pledge Of Better Things

However not the fact only of his showing Himself to Mary, but likewise the manner of it claims our attention. When first beholding Him she did not know the Lord, and even after his speech she still supposed Him to be the gardener. The chief cause for this may have lain in the change which had taken place in Him when the mortal put on immortality. Now behold with what exquisite tact the Lord helps her to restore the broken bond between the image her memory retained of Him and that new image in which henceforth He would walk through her life and hold converse with her spirit. Even these first words: “Women why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?” though in form scarcely differing from the question of the angels, go far beyond the latter in their power to reach Mary’s heart. In the word “woman” with which He addresses her speaks all the majesty of one who felt Himself the Son of God in power by resurrection from the dead. It is a prelude to the still more majestic, “Touch me not” spoken soon afterwards. And yet in the words, “Why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?” He extends to her that heart-searching sympathy, which at a single glance can read and understand the whole secret of her sorrow. He knew that such weeping results only there where one who is more than father or mother has been taken away. And how instantaneous the effect these words produced! Though she still supposes him the gardener, she takes for granted that he at least could not have taken the body with evil intent, that he will not refuse to restore it: “Sir, if thou hast born Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.” A certain response to his sympathy is also shown in this, that three times she refers to Jesus as “Him,” deeming it unnecessary to mention his name. Thus in the way she met the gardener there was already the beginning resumption of the bond of confidence between her and the Lord. And thus Jesus found the way prepared for making Himself known to her in a most intimate manner. “Jesus saith unto her ‘Mary.’ She turneth and saith unto Him, ‘Rabboni’.” It happened all in a moment, and by a simple word, and yet in this one moment Mary’s world was changed for her. She had in that instant made the transition from hopelessness because Jesus was absent, to fullness of joy because Christ was there. We may well despair of conveying by any process of exposition the meaning of these two words. This is speech the force of which can only be felt. And it will be felt by us in proportion as we clearly remember some occasion when the Lord spake a similar word to us and drew from us a similar cry of recognition. Doubtless much of the magical effect of Jesus’ word was due to the tone in which He spoke it. It was a tone calling to her remembrance the former days of closest fellowship. This was the voice that He alone could use, the same voice that had once commanded the demons to depart from her, and to which ever since she had been wont to listen for guidance and comfort. By using it He meant to assure her, that, whatever transformation had taken place, there could be and would be no change in the intimate, personal character of their relationship. And Mary was quick to apprehend this. The Evangelist takes pains to preserve for us the word she uttered in its original Aramaic form, because he would have us understand that it meant more at this moment than could be conveyed by the ordinary rendering of “Teacher” or “Master.” “Rabboni” has a special untranslatable significance. It was the personal response to the personal “Mary,” to all intents a proper name no less than the other. By speaking it Mary consciously re-entered upon the possession of all that as Rabboni He had meant to her. Only one thing she had yet to learn, for teaching her which the Lord did not deem even this unique moment too joyful or sacred. In the sudden revulsion from her grief Mary would have given some external expression to the tumult within by grasping and holding Him. But He restrained her, saying: “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended unto the Father; but go unto my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.” At first sight these words may seem a contrast to those immediately preceding. And yet no mistake could be greater than to suppose that the Lord’s sole or chief purpose was to remind her of the restrictions which henceforth were to govern the intercourse between Himself and her. His intention was much rather to show that the desire for a real communion of life would soon be met in a new and far higher way than was possible under the conditions of local earthly nearness. “Touch me not” does not mean: Touch is too close a contact to be henceforth permissible; it means: the provision for the highest, the ideal kind of touch has not been completed yet: “I am not yet ascended to my Father.” His words are a denial of the privilege she craved only as to the form and moment in which she craved it; in their larger sense they are a pledge, a giving, not a withholding of Himself from her. The great event of which the resurrection is the first step has not yet fulfilled itself; it requires for its completion the ascent to the Father. But when once this is accomplished then all restrictions will fall away, and the desire to touch that made Mary stretch forth her hand shall be gratified to its full capacity. The thought is not different from that expressed in the earlier saying to the disciples: “Ye shall see me because I go to the Father.” There is a seeing, a hearing, a touching, first made possible by Jesus’ entrance into heaven and by the gift of the Spirit dependent on that entrance. And what He said to Mary He commissioned her to repeat to his brethren, that they also might be taught to view the event in its proper perspective. May we not fitly close our study of the text with reminding ourselves, that we too are included among the brethren to whom He desired these tidings to be brought? Before this He had never called the disciples by this name, as He had never until now so suggestively identified Himself with them by speaking of “your Father and my Father” and “your God and my God.” We are once more assured that the new life of glory, instead of taking Him from us, has made us in a profounder sense his brethren and his Father our Father. Though, unlike Mary and the disciples, we have not been privileged to behold Him in the body, yet together with the believers of all ages we have an equal share in what is far sweeter and more precious, the touch through faith of his heavenly Person for which the appearances after the resurrection were but a preparation. Let us then not linger at the tomb, but turn our faces and stretch our hands upwards into heaven, where our life is hid with Him in God, and whence He shall also come again to show Himself to us as He did to Mary, to make us speak the last great “Rabboni,” which will spring to the lips of all the redeemed, when they meet their Savior in the early dawn of that eternal Sabbath that awaits the people of God.

Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, MI: The Reformed Press, 1922), 100–04.

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One comment

  1. I can still remember the reaction I felt when I first read this sermon years ago as a student at Westminster Philadelphia. It moved me deeply then, as it does each time I’ve read it since. Thanks for this post!

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