“Rabbouni,” she said. The word means “teacher,” actually “dear teacher.”
It is a little word, but it tells us so very much. It is spoken by Mary Magdeline who, on that first Easter morning, went to the tomb early to presumably prepare the body of Jesus, or maybe simply to BE there, near him.
She had already discovered the stone that was in front of the tomb had been removed. She was weeping in the garden, not only because of the death of Jesus, but because she was imagining that his body may have been discarded somewhere horrible, disrespected. His body was all she had left.
In her tears, she was limited by what she knew of the world ... that is, death is final and some situations are hopeless.
But then, she heard the Shepherd’s voice, calling her out. “Mary.” It was a voice tenderly calling her out from darkness ... not just the darkness of the early morning, or the darkness of grief, but the darkness of unbelief. She responded with “Rabbouni.”
It appears that Mary, while she recognized Jesus’ voice, had not yet taken in the divine event that had occurred sometime in the wee hours that day at the now-empty tomb.
“Rabbouni” reveals a misunderstanding. It is a word that recalls days past ... sweet times as they used to be ...times together, sitting at Jesus’ feet, times of conversations along the road, times of lessons around the fire.
It recalls a bond between teacher and disciples. It’s a word that remembers when Jesus “walked with them and talked with them and told them they were his own.”
It is as though she really meant to say, “Thank goodness, dear teacher, you didn’t really die.” But Jesus responded saying, “Do not hold on to me.”
Scholars believe Jesus was telling her here he must proceed to his full glorification by ascending to his Father, but also that the close bond between disciple and teacher could not be resumed on the old terms. She could not hold on to him, keeping him in place. “Rabbouni” was the name to be used last Friday, but it was now Sunday and an entirely new relationship was beginning.
Certainly, we can’t blame Mary for her slowly dawning awareness. The Resurrection, after all, is not a natural event. The Resurrection goes against everything ... everything the world teaches us.
It is an amazingly crazy, gloriously unnatural process. We all know, as did Mary, that when a human dies, that is that. We can’t, no matter how much we might want to, expect the person to reappear so we can carry on per usual.
But in the light of the Resurrection, nothing’s the same. It wasn’t for Mary and it isn’t for us. The victory is won. The struggle between the powers of life and death, love and hate, good and evil has been won, and we can now allow what has been to pass away.
We can resist all the limitations and restrictions the world places upon our faith and come into the light, accepting the radical, unnatural truth. If Christ can conquer death, then we know the other promises of God also are true.
There will be a day when death will be no more, when we are resurrected, when God’s Kingdom will indeed fully come ... when every tear will be wiped away and all will be made new. There will be a day when we all will live together with God in glory forever.
From the first Easter morning, God put a new life in those of us now living in the “already, but not yet” which cannot die. We now have hope, and we are empowered to not only persevere when life is difficult, but to thrive and affect change. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. We cannot hold on to him as he was before, but we can know he holds on to us. Now, nothing’s the same. Nothing’s the same. Hallelujah. Amen.
The Rev. Naomi Ingrim is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Copperas Cove.