As spring gets underway in April with lighter days and arguably warmer weather, I usually try my hand at gardening once again. The ground is dug over and prepared. Seeds are sown. Though not much of a gardener, I look forward to a harvest in due course. Putting on my gardening clothes and wellies not only takes me back to my family roots, crofting on the Outer Hebrides, but also connects me to Adam’s original commission in Genesis 1 and 2. Placed in a beautiful garden, his task was to tend it and bring about a fruitful harvest. Adam sadly failed and as a result, the task was made far harder with the presence of thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:17-19).
It’s against this background that we read John’s resurrection narrative in John 20:11-18. Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb early on Sunday morning. She finds the tomb empty. Turning away she sees someone who she assumes is the gardener:
“Jesus asked her, ”Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?“ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ”Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”)." (John 20: 15,16)
Of course it wasn’t the gardener – it was Jesus – both Lord and God as Thomas would later confess (John 20:28). It was an easy mistake for her to make as the tomb was located in a garden (see John 19:41) and with tears filling her eyes she may not have been able to see clearly.
As so often in John’s gospel there are layers of meaning. On this first day of the week (John 20:1) we are witnessing the events of a new creation. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the first act as light overcomes darkness and life defeats death. And in this new creation, the man walking in the garden is indeed the gardener. His task is to bring forth a new harvest. Later that day as Jesus breathes on the disciples (John20:21-23) they receive life and are commissioned to proclaim forgiveness of sins as the first sign of new life. The resurrected Jesus is the gardener who has come to establish a glorious harvest through the work of the Spirit.
So from the day of resurrection onwards, Jesus the gardener is tending his garden and as believers we are the fruits of his labour. At the end, there will indeed be a wonderful harvest because we can have confidence that Jesus the gardener will perform his work faithfully.
So Easter Sunday not only proclaims that death is defeated but also that the One who has defeated death is now engaged on an unstoppable mission of planting and growing new life … in us … and also in others. May we be those who actively participate in this glorious task of seeing God’s new creation grow and flourish.
(Rector, St. Nicholas Sevenoaks)