Saturday, 3 April 2010

Easter Sunday - A Tale of Three Gardens


Acts 10:34-43
Gentiles Hear the Good News
Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

John 20:1,11-18
The Resurrection of Jesus
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘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 round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Can you remember the first time you ever stood barefoot on grass in the early morning dew? The green stems feel soft and almost tickly between your toes. The cool, damp wetness of the earth smears its loving tendrils of moisture across your feet with its gentle embrace which reminds you how much you belong to that place.

It is a joy which can move you almost to tears, and when you see someone you love, you want to hold them and hug them and remind them just how special they are. So let me tell you about three gardens, and in the midst of that I will explain why it is so very important that Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener.

A long time ago, back in the mythological mists of time, there was a garden where walked the first person, Adam. The word Adam means literally ‘Of the Earth’. Adam was made of the same stuff that the earth was made of, which is true of all humans, and is something we are reminded of every time we attend a funeral. All of the elements that go into making us come from the earth.

The real miracle is that we are so full of life when we are made of the same stuff as rocks and seas and mud. Why are we alive? Because the Lord God breathed his Spirit into us. Now I don’t know whether there ever was a real Adam, but I don’t think that’s what the story in Genesis is trying to say. Instead, just by the name, Adam, earth-person, mud-man, what is conveyed is something of this understanding that we are alive because we are breathed into by God.

And so Adam walks in the cool of the day hand in hand with the Lord God in the garden of Eden, and they are talking. Adam is telling God about his day, about the plants he has tended, the animals he has named, perhaps asking God what the point of the duck-billed platypus was, and with God smiling and saying, ‘Just because Adam, just because...’ Why are they having this conversation? Because the Lord God put Adam in the Garden to tend it. Adam was the first gardener.

All the writer of Genesis is trying to tell us is that this is how it could have been; should have been. But we all know the rest of the story. Adam complained that he was lonely, so God put him to sleep and split him into two, with the male half retaining the name Adam, dirt-man, and the female half being called Eve, meaning Life. The human pair were together earth and life, and together they were to tend the earth in partnership.

But instead they disobeyed God, the relationship between them and God was broken and they were expelled from the beauty of the garden. They went from being gardeners who tended and loved to being farmers who had to work hard an unyielding land to produce crops. Again, I don’t know whether there was an original Adam and Eve, but I do know the truth of the feeling that something has been lost, that somehow, something is missing.

For we can no longer walk in the cool of the morning in bare feet, hand in hand with the Lord God, with us both having that sense of overwhelming joy at the dew between our toes; with the Lord feeling the joy of what he had created, and with you or I feeling that we are a part of this land and connected to it. Adam was no longer a gardener. He had been given a gift and he lost it. This was the first garden.

And now the scene switches. It’s another garden; a rich man’s garden belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, and there is a tomb in this garden. Joseph had given up his own tomb for Jesus only something is not as it should be. The heavy circular stone that had been across the door of the tomb has been rolled aside and in front of the tomb a man is gingerly stepping on to the grass, feeling the joy of the cool damp grass between his toes again, perhaps remembering doing this with Adam.

When he sees Mary of Magdalene in tears, Jesus rushes to give her comfort, except through the wave after wave of grief and tears she doesn’t recognise him, perhaps because her mind cannot process what she is seeing, and so instead she mistakes him for the gardener - except she wasn’t mistaken! We so often miss this point, but you have heard me say many times that John wrote a Gospel that has layer after layer to it, and every detail is there for a reason.

Jesus, the gardener? Yes! Exactly! Listen to this, just one example from 1 Corinthians 15:45:
The first man, Adam, became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
And then in verse 49
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Jesus, the Son of God, is the second Adam, the second gardener. He came and set right all that Adam had done wrong. Where Adam said no to God and yes to himself, Jesus, many times but especially in the Garden of Gethsemane, (and note another garden), said, ‘Not my will be done, but your will.’ And so Mary thought he was the gardener, and John the writer says, ‘Yes, exactly, he is the gardener, because he is the new Adam, and this one did it properly.’

Jesus, in ways we cannot begin to explore now, corrected the relationship between God and humanity. He said yes where Adam had said no. The second Adam, the second gardener, was in right relationship with God. And though he was in very nature God, he was born as one of us, uniting both heaven and earth in himself and making it right between us and God.

And so let me tell you about a third garden, and this one you can read about in Revelation 22. This garden is in the centre of a city, a city conceived but not yet built, although we carry it with yearning in our hearts. It bears the name Jerusalem, but not this Jerusalem, it is a new Jerusalem. And in the centre of the garden there is another tree, and we are commanded that we must eat of its fruit, instead of the tree in Eden that we should not eat from.

And the fruit of this tree is for healing, and the light which shines throughout the new city shines from God himself, and because of the work of the gardener, the second Adam, Jesus, we have been given the right to someday go and live there. And we dirt-men and dirt-women, will know that we truly belong there. And when we feel the new dew between our toes on the soft grass of heaven’s new garden we will know how much we belong because Christ bought us a place there with his life.

This is no fairy tale. One day, someday, that will be our new home, as brothers and sisters of the gardener, of the second Adam. That will be eventual home. But not yet. Because there are others who need to be told, others who need to be brought. In this meantime, this in-between time, we have work to do. Amen

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