Much of the account of Jesus’ resurrection in chapter 20 can only be found in John’s gospel: the account of Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene, and his conversation with the doubter, Thomas.
Two things strike me however as I read this chapter: First, Jesus’ words to Mary “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
Mary had once been possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2), but she had been rescued from her predicament by Jesus and her undying gratitude is seen plainly in the very brief descriptions of her relationship with Jesus. She, along with other women, traveled with Jesus (Matthew 27:55-56). She watched from a distance as Jesus hung on the cross, went to the burial, and was among the first at the tomb the following Sunday. Her closeness is seen in the conversation with the man she supposes is the gardener, whom she thinks has removed the body. Wherever he has put the body, she will go and get it. Can you imagine this woman trying to carry a corpse? When she realizes the gardener is Jesus, her joy is so complete that she hangs onto Jesus as if to never let him go.
But go he must.
There are things to do. He must return to the Father. She must spread the news of his resurrection.
Grief and tragedy have a tendency to slow us down in life, but God intends we realize He has work for us to do. After 30 days of grieving, God told Israel: “Moses is dead. Get up and go into the land.” Mary got only three days. Until the Lord comes, no loss will stop time. Those who trust in the Lord must be about the Father’s business.
The second thing involves another sentence from Jesus: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is vastly different from “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15 –see also parallels in Mark 11:25 and Luke 11:4; 17:3ff). Do Christians have the power to determine forgiveness?
The gospels are plain: Jesus came to provide forgiveness. His followers do the same. Their task is to be mediators of forgiveness, and the very serious thought is that if Christians are not those mediators, the world is lost in sin. These words are not intended to mean that if I don’t forgive you, you can’t be forgiven. Too often Jesus has emphasized that if I don’t forgive you, I will not be forgiven. Rather, the statement is made in the context of the Christian mission, Jesus’ “sending” purpose (vs. 21). The task is so important and serious that it cannot be accomplished without the power of the Spirit. The point is sobering: whatever Jesus accomplished on the cross will be pointless if His followers do not take the message of that work to the world.