Resurrection of the Lord, Year C
17 April 2022
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
I have on occasion mused that when we retire, whenever that may be, we should move to some place with fertile soil, and predictable rainfall, and begin to grow our own food.
My wife laughed at my suggestion as I do not know the first thing about gardening and if we were to rely on my ability to grow vegetables we would likely starve.
I am a city kid and have always been. I like population density and diversity, I love the life that moves outside as our days get longer and warmer.
And yet, city dweller or not, all of us marvel at nature re-awaking after the winter, and with cellphones being ubiquitous, at this time of the year we seem to always see someone take pictures of buds or blossoms. I know that I am enthralled with nature reawakening and the little wonders evident in very bud and flower. And one of the benefits of my office is not only that I can see the flower beds but also daycare families admiring the flowers when they come in the morning and when they leave in the evening.
We have an allotment garden within walking distance from our house. And so I learn a little as we enter our fifth season. The garden of our house in Abbotsford was shady and not suitable for growing vegetables. We also get to wander around the other gardens and admire what other people grow, sometimes things we have never seen before. As I said, I like living in the city where so many different people come together.
We learn in the last verse of chapter 19 of John’s Gospel that Jesus is buried in a new grave in a garden not far from the place of his execution.
This is the place to which Mary goes in her grief because she does not know what to do with herself and to be at the place where Jesus was buried is a stand-in for being close to Jesus.
When I was a child my family would visit the cemetery every other week to tend the grave of my grandparents. My mother would pull weeds and plant flowers and my brother and I would fill up the watering can. It was a place to be close to the ones we loved, even though we were no longer able to see them with our own eyes.
That is why Mary, sleepless in her grief, goes to the grave of Jesus before dawn. But to her shock she finds the grave open and does not know what to make of it. She runs back to the others because we feel safer in community and need the community to help us in our own discernment of what we are to make of the world.
Upon hearing her report, Peter and John race to the grave, like schoolboys race to the playground at recess, as one commentator puts it. They enter the grave and see the linen that the body of Jesus had been wrapped in. The text says that John believed, even though they did not yet understand the scripture. By saying that John believed even though they did not yet understand the scripture, we are told that our belief is more than a feeling but needs the direction and correction of the scriptures and of the tradition of the church. We do not get to make things up.
After Peter and John have left, Mary returns by herself, and this time, she too looks into the tomb. Mary sees the linen but she sees more than Peter and John saw. Is it because she sees with the eyes of love? We are not told. She sees two angels in white, two messengers from God sitting by where the body of Jesus had been laid. They ask her why she is weeping, which maybe as much as to say “Do not be afraid,” the message always spoken by God’s messengers. And as she turns around, she sees Jesus standing there without knowing it is Jesus. The exchange she had with the angels repeats itself with Jesus. And then we learn that Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. After all, the grave she visits is in a garden.
I used to read John’s resurrection story as a story in which Mary represents us in the way we wish we were, in her undying love for Jesus, but also in her error when she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. That she mistakes Jesus for the gardener I used to read as a sign that like many of us, Mary found the idea of resurrection fantastical and unlike anything she herself might face or experience, and by doing to, I projected all modern skepticism onto Mary, forgetting that Mary was not a modern like us. She may at first not have believed because of her overwhelming sense of loss but she may have had far less difficulty believing in the resurrection than our time does.
The point the evangelist makes here is a subtle one. While Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener in this place, Jesus is the gardener.
When we remember the scope of the story, we remember that God’s story with humanity began in a garden. That was the beginning.
Here, on Easter Morning, is a new beginning. It is early in the morning on the first day of the week.
As God created the world at the beginning, and as everything that is came into being through Jesus (John 1), and as all things are from him, through him, and to him,1 so what we have in the resurrection of Jesus is not only God’s raising of a person who had been dead but the beginning of the new creation. As Paul can say, everyone in Christ is a new creation.2
Or as an ancient prayer puts it, that he who by a tree once overcome, by a tree be overcome,3 remembering here that the cross is God’s victory and that cross and resurrection belong together.
And so what happens on Easter morning is not simply an event that affects an individual, which happens to be Jesus, but is an event that effects the whole cosmos.
If Mary sees Jesus as the gardener then this image is congruent with the ruler who rides a donkey instead of a warhorse, the lion that is a lamb, the Prince of Peace who governs not by force but by love and sacrifice.
We will soon plant our garden, and I am confident I will learn more about gardening than I know now. But our little garden is only a small part of the life that springs forth from the River of the Water of Life and it pales in comparison to the Tree of Life that brings forth leaves for the healing of the nations.4
But regardless of my gardening skills, it is that kind of gardening to which we have been enabled and recruited, to live our lives for the healing of the world, for we are part of this story.
Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
1 Romans 11:36
2 2 Corinthians 5
3 Preface for Passion Week, in Lutheran Book of Worship – Ministers Desk Edition, page 249
4 Revelation 22