Scripture: John 20:1-18
“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” – John 20:15
Two days before Mary had stood at the foot of the Cross, as her teacher, her friend and Lord had suffered the full force of the Roman Empire’s brutal power – death upon the twisted, torturous tree. The whole earth seemingly mourned Jesus’ death as the sky was darkened, bruised by the death of the very Son of God. And now his body was no where to be found, the stone rolled away, the tomb found empty. We can excuse Mary for her confusion, and seeming blindness – it was a blindness born out of grief, not only the grief of seeing Jesus die and losing her friend and teacher, but the double grief of finding his tomb empty, his body seemingly snatched away stripping Mary of her opportunity to properly mourn and say goodbye.
Is it any wonder she kept asking the man who she supposed was the gardener where Jesus’s body was? Is it any wonder she supposed that man to be the gardener? Our reading says it was still dark after all, and who else would be lurking in the garden of the graveyard in the wee hours of the morning. Mary is grief-stricken, looking for the last threads of Jesus’ life to grasp. And was Mary wrong in identifying Jesus as the gardener? Gardens after all play a prominent role in the grand narrative of Scripture – from the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis to verdant gardens of the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation – life, the life God intends for the world is symbolized by Gardens. Throughout the Bible God is constantly likened to the Divine gardener, tending his garden bringing forth fruit, bringing forth life where there was no life before.
Perhaps Mary in her grief had glimpsed the eternal truth that Jesus as God’s Son, was the divine gardener; perhaps Mary had seen a vision of Jesus in his Resurrected life tending to the world, bringing forth life where there was once only sin and death. In the midst of her grief, perhaps Mary had been gifted with a glimpse into the very nature of God in Jesus – a glimpse at the one who brings forth life, bringing forth life like a midwife at the birth of child, coaxing life out of pain and suffering. For that was the way that God brought about this eternal and abundant life, through the pain of suffering and death, the death of his very own Son.
On Friday, we recalled the pain, the suffering, the degradation of Jesus on the Cross, the lengths that God would go for our sake, for the sake of the world. For two days following the crucifixion, Jesus the very Word of God, the divine Gardener lay dormant in the ground, like a seed full of potential, like a seed dormant over winter ready to burst forth with the fullness of life when the right time comes.
Today is that day, today is the day that the fullness of life bursts forth into the world; today is the day that we remember the immeasurable, grace, mercy and power of God to bring forth life out of death; today is the day that we remember the definitive action of God by the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus to destroy the bonds of sin and death, to unshackle us, to free us from our slavery to sin. Today is the day that we remember the Godlessness of the Cross opening up reconciliation and relationship with God for everyone. Today is the day that we remember the twisted, torturous wood of the cross, becoming for us the very Tree of Life, planted in the midst of a new Garden of Eden.
The Cross, in all its shame has become for us the source of eternal glory; the Cross which was the epitome of death has become the origin of eternal and abundant life; the Cross the utter symbol of godlessness and forsakenness has become for us the very signpost of God’s love, mercy and grace in the world.
Just as God planted the Tree of Life in midst of the Garden of Eden – in the death and resurrection of Jesus God has planted the new Tree of Life, a Tree of life which will never wither or fade, a Tree of Life which will never be uprooted by our sin, a Tree of Life which offers the abundance of its fruit to all who come to quench their hunger for life. This garden which Jesus tends, this Garden which Jesus waters with his very blood is a Garden we will never be expelled from, it is the garden of the divine Gardener in God’s eternal kingdom – promised to us in the Book of Revelation.
The resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate this Easter Sunday is not a reversal of the cross of Good Friday; it isn’t a magic trick that God performed with skin and bones. It isn’t merely Jesus escaping the sharpness of death, it isn’t God correcting a mistake, it isn’t a detour in his great plan of creation. The resurrection isn’t even just Jesus coming back from the dead, it isn’t just a miracle that God performed. The resurrection is the penultimate act in God’s great drama of salvation – it is the opening up of abundant and eternal life after the defeat of sin and death, it is the preparation for life in God’s eternal and everlasting Kingdom.
The resurrection is the revelation that love is stronger than death, that even death holds no power over God’s creative forces of love and mercy in the universe. That the sting of death cannot separate us from God, and that it cannot separate us from his love made known to us in Jesus Christ. The resurrection is the revelation that things we cling to: success, power, accolades, are nothing in the face of God, and the resurrection tells us that human worth is not indexed to worldly success.
In the Tree and the Garden we discover that we are loved and wanted simply because of who we are, simply because we are human and not because of what we can achieve, not because of the successes we have. In the Tree and the Garden we come to know that there is nothing we can do to make God love us anymore or any less. In dealing with Sin once and for all on the Cross, God transforms this brutal instrument of torture into the very Tree of Life, and so it becomes for us the first fruits of a new and renewed Creation.
This is what the Christian life is all about: it is about entering with Jesus into his death upon the Tree of Life and into his life in the Garden of the New Creation. It is about embracing our weakness, embracing our raw humanity, without any of the facades or dressings we put on in daily life. It is about embracing the death of our false pretensions and aspirations so that we might receive the love and mercy of God, metaphorically naked before God with nothing getting in the way, just as Adam and Eve communed with God in the Garden of Eden – so we too will commune with God in the new Garden of life. As we embrace the Tree of Life, as we embrace the Cross, we too can experience the vibrancy of the God’s new creation, we too can experience the renewed life which the divine Gardener brings forth in our lives.
While we share in Christ’s death and resurrection, we cannot stay there clinging to him, just as Jesus told Mary that she could not hold on to him. Jesus tends his garden so that everyone may experience its fruit, so that everyone may share in the abundant and eternal life that he offers. Jesus sent Mary to leave the new Garden of life with a job to tell her brothers about the risen Lord – so too Jesus tells us that we cannot spend our lives clinging to him, we cannot stay in the Garden for our own benefit, but rather we are called to go out and share with the world the Good News that the Divine Gardener is victorious over sin and death; the Good News that God loves us no matter who we are or what we’ve done; the Good News that there is nothing we can do to make God love us the any more or any less. Today we remember that the good news is that Jesus is the Divine Gardener, tending the buds of new life in everyone who responds in faith. The Good News today is that Christ the Gardener is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!