In the beginning, when God created the world, he set a garden in the midst of his creation. This garden was the vibrant center of the world, a place of flourishing and peace for all creatures. God set human beings in this garden to tend it, to be gardeners of the first garden of God. Human beings, from the very start, had a vocation, a calling: tend the earth, care for God’s creation, live in harmony with one another and all that God has made. Being a gardener in Eden was more than having a menial task, more than pruning and weeding and picking and mowing. Being a gardener was a royal task, a work equal to the dignity and stature of being made in the image and likeness of God. Being a gardener was to bring glory to God. Here would be creatures, bearing God’s image, doing God’s work, in the midst of God’s good creation.
In the beginning. The beginning—it’s like the opening scene of a great Hollywood movie. And up here, at the King and Queen’s Seat, you don’t need much imagination to picture what God had intended for the garden of Eden. Maybe you can hear in your head beautiful pastoral music, a symphony by Beethoven perhaps, as the camera pans across a new garden, at the early breath of spring, tress budding, flowers blossoming, the world awakening. In that movie, the move of the beginning, though, the beauty of the early days is shattered by strident, angry chords as sin interrupts the plot, throws everything out of control, unleashes a fury and chaos that overwhelms the beauty of the opening scene. The music gets darker and darker, the bright colors dim, reds and blacks and purples seep into the hues of the screen. And eventually the film hits its most terrible moment, an earth-shattering event of such horror and sadness that it seems like there must be nothing left to say, nothing left to do.
That is the story of humanity up until the crucifixion, up until the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Set in a glorious and royal position, we plunged ourselves into a world of chaos and disaster.
That is where Mary Magdalene finds herself on the first Easter morning. Weary of the disastrous world, the world in which it is possible that God himself would take on human flesh, walk among his creatures in love and patience and humility, offer his creation reconciliation and peace, and we would still crucify him. Mary Magdalene is weary of this world, her eyes are bleary from weeping, and she approaches Christ’s tomb to to heave her sorrows into the grace of our Savior. She hopes, perhaps, that she will find a remnant of the peace of Eden here, of the shalom God intended for creation all along. She hopes, perhaps, that at the very least Christ, crucified, has been left to rest in peace. And when Mary Magdalene finds an empty tomb, her world is shattered yet again: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” It seems that fallen humanity has reared its vicious head once more, adding one more insult to the injury of the crucifixion.
But from this moment forward, from her discovery of the empty tomb, things play out very differently for Mary Magdalene. She has stumbled onto something new, something unforeseen, something unimaginable—in the best sense of the word. It’s like the movie of God’s creation, the movie where everything starts out wonderful in Eden and ends up in a horrible mess at the cross, has started to play backwards, in reverse. She begins from a place of horror, but she ends in a place more beautiful, more wondrous, more amazing than Eden itself. She is in a new garden, not the garden of Eden, but the resurrection garden.
So when Mary Magdalene sees Jesus and thinks he’s the gardener, she’s not entirely wrong. Jesus is the gardener, just like Adam and Eve were supposed to be the gardeners in Eden. Jesus is the faithful creature, the one who bears God’s image, who does God’s work, in the midst of God’s creation. Jesus is the keeper of the new royal garden of God, the resurrection garden, the garden of the new creation. Wherever he goes, wherever Jesus works, becomes the vibrant new center of creation, the place where the new world, the world of the resurrection, breaks into our world and begins to transform the whole creation. And for Jesus, “gardener” is a royal title, a title that fits who he really is. In the resurrection, the Gardener is the King; the King is the Gardener.
Weeping comes to an end in the resurrection garden. Mary, who has mourned so much for her Lord, whose life has been spinning out of control since the cross, has new purpose in life. She has been freed from her sorrow by Jesus, who is not dead but alive! She is his witness, a witness to his resurrection, and Jesus tells her to go to his disciples, to tell them all that he has said. The garden is growing, and in John’s gospel Mary Magdalene is the first assistant to the Gardener King. In fact, she is more than a witness: she has a new residence, in the resurrection garden. Her new life starts now, here, with the risen King.
Friends, Jesus Christ is alive! This is not just the feel-good ending to a long story. It’s the beginning of a new story, a story of life upon life, a story of death defeated, forever. This is not just the pruning of an old garden; this is the planting of a newly cultivated field. This is not just a repeat of Eden; this is a new beginning, an eternal beginning, a new creation. And there is work for us to do.
We are all called to be gardeners in the resurrection garden. Gardening can be a symbol: we are workers, laborers in the vineyard, for the true Gardener. Our task is to tend to resurrection plots wherever we see them. When we see life springing up in healed relationships, or passion for the gospel, or peacemaking, we are to tend that life carefully, to nurture it while it grows where it has been planted.
But the power of Christ’s resurrection is so real, so true, that gardening isn’t just a symbol. It can be what we really do, as faithful resurrection gardeners. In Cedar Grove, NC—a town not all that different from Forest Hill, really, a United Methodist congregation turned a 5-acre donation into the Anathoth Community Garden. Members of the church join members of the community to till the soil, plant the seeds, water, weed, and harvest the crops. Along the way, Anathoth Garden has brought healing in the Cedar Grove after a shocking murder in 2005, and the Garden has helped overcome racial tensions that have haunted the area for centuries. Through this garden the power of the resurrection has remained real, earthy—and beautiful.
Where is resurrection happening in Forest Hill and North Harford County? Where can we tend to the resurrection gardens Jesus sends us to touch in his name? Where can we plant new gardens, in places and lives our world has forgotten, abandoned, or written off?
In the new beginning, when Christ overcame death, when by the power of the Holy Spirit the Father raised the Son from the grave, Christ set his feet in a garden in the midst of creation. He has taken on the royal task of the new creation, so we can live, too, with purpose, meaning, and hope. With Christ, we can bring glory to God! New life is here! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.