240331 – Wondering – Garden

Easter Sunday ~ John 20:1-18

We’ve been wondering our way through Lent this year, and wondering our way through Holy Week, and now we’ve arrived at the big one – Easter Sunday – I bet you’re wondering what I’m going to wonder about today! Maybe you’re wondering if I’m going to finally explain what it all means. Well, wonder no more, because I’m going to start by saying I haven’t got a clue.

If you want me to tell you what really happened that first Easter morning, and what Resurrection is definitively about I’m going to disappoint you. I can’t do it. All I can do is wonder about it. And it is, truly wondrous – mind-bogglingly, astoundingly, knee-quiveringly wondrous. I affirm with the very core of my being that Resurrection happened and happens but as to the mechanics of it, I am totally at a loss. And I’m pretty suspicious of anyone who thinks they get it. It’s pure mystery. It’s absolute wonder. It’s beyond comprehension.

But it is not beyond experiencing. It’s not beyond engaging with. In fact, opening ourselves to the incredible possibilities and truth that resurrection offers is essential for us to grow in our faith and our humanity. So I can’t begin to tell you how it actually happened, but I can explore with you some of what it might mean for us.

I need to take us back to Friday for a couple of minutes – to John 19:41-42

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Jesus was crucified at a place called Golgotha which means “place of the skull” – which could’ve been because it was shaped like a skull, or because they did many executions there it was associated with skulls, or that there were actual skulls around – but whatever it means there is a clear association with death. It was a place for executions.

But here’s the bit I want us to really notice: John 19:41 – “There was a garden in the place where he was crucified.”

A garden! There, in this place that is literally dripping in death, is a garden. And what happens in a garden? Things grow. Life emerges. Renewal happens. Even there at the skull place. How wondrous!

There is something extraordinary about gardens! There’s one called Gethsemane that’s pretty special. John 18:1-2 says ”Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples.”

Jesus used to hang out in this garden. I wonder why.

Could it be because in a garden it’s easier to be reminded that new life is all around? That God is growing new things? That the rhythm of the seasons, growth patterns, maturity, transformation, all that great spiritual stuff is right before your eyes so you can tune-in to God’s Presence better there?

The bible begins with life in the garden. In Genesis, the first humans are described as being in the garden with the very Presence of God right there with them. And the bible ends with life in the garden as well. The River of Life streams through it and the Tree of Life is in constant bloom producing bounteous fruit in every season.

In the early stages of the pandemic, do you remember how important Tuesday mornings working on the Faith United garden became? When we were afraid to be in the same room as other people, this Community of Faith found a way to be together and support and encourage one another. I dare say it was one of the things that kept this congregation going. Where did it happen? In the garden! One of the great gifts of the pandemic was the rebirth and flourishing of the Faith United garden. Even this morning a group of us celebrated God’s presence in that garden as we welcomed the sunrise and shared in worship together.

Humanity flourishes in the garden with the Presence of God. It was true for Adam and Eve. It was true for Jesus and the disciples. It is the ultimate vision of bliss for all humanity in Revelation. And we personally have experienced it here at Faith, in our own garden.

Could this be why there’s a garden on Golgotha? Is this garden in the midst of a deathly place meant to tell us something important? Are we supposed to remember that God is Present in a unique way in gardens so we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus, who was ‘planted’ in a tomb, in a garden, has somehow, inexplicably, wondrously emerged as new life?

The disciples and Mary should’ve known that, but they arrived that first Easter morning expecting to look upon death. They were so overwhelmed with the ending of what was that they forgot to look for the beginning of what could be. The power of Good Friday still had a vice-grip on them, and they had not yet dared to let that go and embrace Something More. They needed to remember Jesus’ teaching about cruciformity – the rhythm of transformation. They simply needed to learn what Easter means.

Do you know what Easter means? There’s no single definitive answer. Some think it may be derived from very ancient words meaning shine and dawn, but the most popular idea is that Easter comes from Eostre, a goddess associated with spring. So Easter either means the dawning of a new day or the blossoming of spring. Either way it means renewal, new life, signs of growth in the garden.

But Mary was still grasping the death part, so the empty tomb was devastating to her because it suggested that someone had maybe stolen Jesus’ body. She goes for help. A couple of disciples come running and when they arrive they are greeted with bewilderment. What could have happened? It didn’t make sense. There was no death there – only the remnants of the death – the linen cloths, but no Jesus.

They take a few steps back, and try to catch their breath and stop their heads from spinning. And what they don’t realize is that they are standing in a garden – surrounded by the Sacred – immersed in God’s Presence – but they just can’t let go of Friday yet.

You can’t have Easter until you let go of whatever Friday you’re still grasping!

The disciples leave and Mary remains to weep. She glances into the tomb and notices something amazing – there are two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body should have been.

They say, “Woman why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

How do you think she’s feeling at this moment? Bewildered? Confused? Startled? She’s just seen something that’s described as angels, and now someone has suddenly spoken to her from out of nowhere. She has experienced something wondrous and then literally turned around – a favourite biblical metaphor – and encountered the very Presence of Jesus, but it clearly couldn’t have been the usual Jesus she knew because she didn’t recognize him. Astounding!

Jesus said to her, “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.”

Supposing him to be the gardener – the one who tends the garden – the one who helps new things grow. She is absolutely correct but she doesn’t understand it yet. She can’t quite see it yet. She is definitely encountering the gardener! And then she begins to see.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned (again, that’s the act of changing your life direction and embracing the new – she was finally letting go of death and embracing new life – in the garden) and she said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

And Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” But she doesn’t mean with her eyes. It isn’t that kind of seeing. The Greek word used here means to experience, to perceive, to discern. It’s a spiritual seeing – eyeball seeing uses a different word! The wonder here isn’t that she saw Jesus but that she SAW Jesus. In the garden! Because that’s where we encounter God’s Presence in wondrously profound ways.

I love flowers and fresh vegetables but I’ve never been much into gardening. Since moving to the country, and having a big vegetable garden to tend now, I’m starting to enjoy it more. Aside from the delicious zucchini lasagnas I gorge myself on all summer, another benefit is that God’s garden metaphors are speaking more deeply to me these days.

So, let’s explore the metaphor. Where’s the garden?
Like Mary, we need to see in a spiritual and not literal way – we need to move beyond a literal garden.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.”
Easter says, “The garden of God is within you.”
“The garden of God is within you!”

What is God growing in you?
What new life has taken seed and is getting ready to flourish within you?
What have you let go of so that you can open yourself to God’s wondrous Presence and embrace God’s light which will transform your hopeful planting into a bountiful renewed thing in your life?

This is what I think resurrection means.
This is what Easter means!
It’s what happens when you let go of the thing you were holding onto and let God plant you in God’s garden.

A place where God’s Presence is powerful.
A place where the gardener can lovingly tend to your growing.
A place where new life dawns.
“The garden of God is within you.”
What a wonder-full idea!

Maybe Joni Mitchell has had it right all along.
We are stardust. We are golden.
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…

I wonder if that’s why we’re here today…