I recently listened to a podcast by Rob Bell called “Seasons.” He talks about taking his son to college, and realizing that with the change of seasons, come both joys and challenges–even if that change is good and necessary and life-giving. He connected to the story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene shortly after the resurrection, where Jesus says to Mary, “Do not hold onto me” (John 20:17). He reflected on the challenge for Mary of releasing Jesus from who she knew him to be…letting the season of having Jesus among them in bodily form change. This was hard for Mary. It was hard for the disciples. It’s often hard when seasons come to an end and something changes.
I could quickly see the connection to my own changing of seasons, as I left one position earlier this year and am gradually adjusting to a new position. With this position comes both joys and challenges. One of the very real dynamics for my position–and many youth ministry positions these days–is that youth ministry looks different now than it did several years ago. And yet there’s a strong desire to re-capture what youth ministry used to look like–large groups of teenagers coming together on the church campus on a regular basis.
But as I listened to Rob Bell reflect on this encounter between Jesus and Mary in the garden, and the reality of seasons, I saw a strong connection to my ministry. I could see myself in Mary, clinging to the hem of Jesus’ robe and saying, “please…stick around…in a way that I can see you and touch you. Stick around and keep doing the things I know you can do. Stick around because I have figured out what life is like with you around.” And I could see Jesus saying to me, “don’t hold on to me…let me be among you in new ways…let me be within you and around you in new ways…let me send you to the others with a message…don’t hold on to me. It’s more abstract and harder to define, but ultimately my message won’t get beyond this defined community until you let go and let me be different than what you’ve known so far.”
I could hear Jesus saying something similar to the church: “do not hold on to me. Let me be different than the concrete way you may have known me in the past. Let me be among you in new ways. I am sending YOU now…”
Imagine if Jesus had stayed in that garden. Because it was safer, more comfortable, more familiar.
But imagine what can happen because Jesus did NOT stay in that garden.