READINGS: Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18
So how’s your garden coming along?
Anything like Eden yet?
It all started in a garden. Eden. That perfect place of friendship – paradise. I doubt that there were weeds and thorns at the beginning. In fact, listen again to Genesis 3:17-18: To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
Gardens are these interesting places – potential for chaos, lots of things that die – but life comes through their death. There are even experiments where electricity is being generated in cemeteries. And crematoria are being plugged into the electricity grid in some countries. Bizarre as it may seem.
When our children were young we lived in a place called Oslo Beach. And to get to our house each afternoon we had to drive past a crematorium and cemetery.
Our daughter used to pester me – “when can we visit the grave garden”. After weeks of this I turned into the place after school and we visited the old man who ran the place. And looked inside the oven. No it wasn’t occupied at the time. There were some questions about granny and what had happened to her when she died. And home we went. No more requests after that. That was our visit to the grave garden.
Today we read about another grave garden.
It’s not surprising that we find life springing from this garden. The other gospels don’t mention the garden or a gardener.
MARY – IS LOOKING FOR A BODY
It’s not really surprising that Mary assumes Jesus is the gardener. (The word “gardener” is an example of hapax legomenon. You don’t find the word anywhere else in the New Testament or LXX.) (κηπουρός – garden warden in John 20:15. In John 15:1 the word is γεωργός – soil worker)
It is unique to John – as is Mary’s encounter alone with Jesus.
The most intriguing line is this one in verse 17:
“Don’t cling to me” is the best translation it seems. The word means to fasten – in a reflexive sense to attached yourself to someone or something. Cling is a good word.
I remember an old lady at a funeral I conducted who held on to her husband’s coffin as it was being lowered into the grave. Don’t cling to the past?
Not touch. It would be okay for Thomas to do as much touching as he wanted – poking around in the holes made by nails and spear.
But not for Mary. She had to focus on a new beginning.
She knows he is not the gardener when he says her name. Suddenly she turns from looking to a body to looking at the man. The one of whom Pilate said: “Behold the Man!” (John 19:5).
- This is the second Adam – who unlike the first resists temptation.
- The Man Jesus who is the one to whom we all must turn.
He speaks her name – and she turns. Listen to verse 16 again: Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Memories of his teaching flood back for John’s readers from John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. And John 10:3 He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
The word “turn” is also subtle. It can also mean convert.
JESUS’ REASONING WHEN HE TELLS MARY NOT TO CLING TO HIM
Don’t cling to me.
The reason he gives to her is this: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them… (v17)
Not yet returned to the Father. Literally Jesus was “not yet ascended.” What does this mean? Clearly his day was part of a greater story which we summarised on Friday in the saying together of the Apostle’s Creed. Did you notice which line was left out?
Mary is unmoved by this concept or idea of why she should not hold onto him. Once she hears Jesus’ voice she focusses on his words
She is Apostle number 14 really. “Go to my brothers and tell them…” She is the apostle to the apostles!
And the message is fascinating. There is a new opening in the family now through Christ’s death and resurrection: ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
John is taking his readers back to the beginning – to chapter 1:
Joh 1:11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Joh 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
Joh 1:13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
And then back in chapter 19 verse 18: Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary does not seem offended by being rebuffed by Jesus. It’s all about getting word out.
And she does. She is a witness to the resurrection and sent by Jesus to tell the boys.
The irony in this passage is that they are still a bit muddled in this way. Listen again to verse 12: Joh 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. Joh 20:2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Joh 20:3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Joh 20:4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
They’re still competing – typical boys. It’s quite amusing really – how John points out who won that race. The “other disciple” is John! He is speaking about himself.
One of the early church fathers had a more delightful explanation of this race: “Ishodad of Merv traces John’s greater speed to the fact that he was unmarried.” Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John XIII – XXI (New York: The Anchor Bible, Doubleday, 1970) 985
WHAT ARE WE DOING IN THAT GARDEN?
It takes more than one look in the garden. Mary saw the stone was rolled away. She assumed grave robbers were at work.
It took his voice to get her attention to notice other possibilities.
Peter and John have their race – John wins but only sticks his head in to look. Peter goes right in. Typical Peter!
There is something challenging about walking into a place where the dead are kept.
OUR TOMBS ARE NOT EMPTY
Our tombs are not empty – that makes it really hard for us when we face death. We have to hold on to hope and be prepared to wait to see our loved ones again.
We were not witnesses of this resurrection. But remember what Jesus said to Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe (to Thomas) Joh 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Joh 20:28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Joh 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
WHAT WILL YOU TAKE HOME TODAY – THIS EASTER?
The shift in relationship because of the resurrection is the key. Tom Wright puts it like this:
This passage gives us a moment like that. It’s a moment when it becomes clear, to the careful reader of John’s gospel, that something extraordinary has taken place, not only to Jesus –though that’s extraordinary enough– but to the way the world is, the way God is, the way God and the disciples now are. Up to this point Jesus has spoken about God as ‘the father’, or ‘the father who sent me’, or ‘my father’. He has called his followers ‘disciples’, ‘servants’ and ‘friends’.
Now all that has changed. Feel the force of verse 17: ‘Go and say to my brothers, I am going up to my father and your father, to my God and your God.’ Something has altered, decisively. Something has been achieved. A new relationship has sprung to life like a sudden spring flower. The disciples are welcomed into a new world: a world where they can know God the way Jesus knew God, where they can be intimate children with their father. (Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2346-2353). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)
- Jesus is the new gardener
- There is a New Eden
- New cultivation of the fruits of the spirit will begin
- And a new family!
Wright continues: Mary’s intuitive guess, that he must be the gardener, was wrong at one level and right, deeply right, at another. This is the new creation. Jesus is the beginning of it…
Here he is: the new Adam, the gardener, charged with bringing the chaos of God’s creation into new order, into flower, into fruitfulness. He has come to uproot the thorns and thistles and replace them with blossoms and harvests. (Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2367-2372). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)
It’s a new creation. And it’s for everyone. The reading from Acts today is Peter speaking at the house of the Gentile Cornelius. This family is all inclusive. This is how the passage ends:
Act 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,
Act 10:40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
Act 10:41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
Act 10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
Act 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
It’s a tree that he was hanged on – says Peter. A new source of life, offsetting the consequences of the fruit from the forbidden tree.
The 8th century Old English Poem (written therefore before William the conqueror and genuinely Anglo-Saxon) called “The dream of the Rood” has the poet describe the Rood – the cross – in his dream like this:
“It seemed to me that I saw a very wondrous tree (v5) lifted into the air, enveloped by light, the brightest of trees.”
Later the cross is described as the “tree of glory, on which Almighty God suffered for mankind’s many sins…”
At the end the poet continues: May the Lord be a friend to me, (v145) who suffered here on earth before on the gallows-tree for men’s sins; he redeemed us and gave us life, a heavenly home. Joy was restored with blessings and with bliss…
What do we take with us? You can opt for a chocolate egg if you like.
But the crosses we made last Sunday speak more to me. A new tapestry – a weaving of colour and beauty – comes through that cross.
When I survey the wondrous cross – “Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.”