Jesus the Gardener

About a year and a half ago, we moved from Marietta to my house to meet as a Core Group. When we did that we stopped recording messages, and since we have moved to Lancaster and the Community Room we have yet to record the messages. This is definitely something that I want to get back to. But until then I thought I would post the Easter message that I preached and the discussion questions that we talked about after the message. The message is called Jesus the Gardener.

Since January our community has been walking through a series called STORY where we have been looking at the various stories that Jesus told that literally changed the world. Today we again look at a story, not necessarily a story that Jesus told, but a story that Jesus lived. And when I mean story, I don’t mean a fictional story. I mean a real story that really happened that really changed the world and in fact continues to change the world, day by day, person by person, faith community by faith community. This story is obviously the reason that we are gathered together on this Resurrection Sunday (or Easter if you like). The story of the resurrection of Jesus is more than just a great bedtime story, it is a story that provides meaning, hope, purpose, redemption, wholeness and healing to those who seek to live out a resurrection life 2,000 years after it happened.

So today we are going to explore that story, what it means, how you can be a participant in it, and in changing the world.

Now we have a few different choices for which part of the story we are going to explore, and which story out of the 4 gospels (the story of the life of Jesus). I have chosen one I believe that when we unpack it, we’ll see the gospel in a whole new light, we’ll see the resurrection in a whole new light, and we’ll see our roles as followers of Jesus in a whole new light. So let’s turn to Luke 20:11-18 and begin to unpack this resurrection story and find out how it has changed the world, and how it invites us into the story, and into helping to change the world.

“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He 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”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 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.”

So we know from the first verse in chapter 20 that this happened on the first day of the week, and we also know from the previous chapter that the tomb that Jesus was laid in was in a garden. Now that we know them, it might strike you as having heard something about the first day of the week, and a garden somewhere before. Where in the Scriptures does the first day and garden show up? At the very beginning in Genesis 1. These things show up not only in Genesis but also in the story which we read, and also at the end of the story in Revelation. But why does John refer us back to the Creation account, why was Jesus raised on the first day, and why was the tomb in a garden (which harkens back to the Garden of Eden)? John’s gospel has something to communicate about humanity and the whole cosmos. This is a story about creation (or should I say recreation) just as much as Genesis 1-2 is a story about Creation. John wants us to understand that Jesus was with God before the creation of the world and then chose to become part of God’s earth as a human being. Jesus’ life not only enters into cosmic history, but somehow affects all of creation itself. It is very important to keep that in mind when we return to this story.

So in John 20:11 we see Mary Magdalene standing outside the tomb weeping when the “gardener” shows up. This seems familiar and so back to the original creation story we go. Back to Adam, who was place in the garden as its overseeing gardener and is given a green thumb to nurture it, to make creation flourish. And somehow in these two stories we see the connection between the first gardener, Adam and the second gardener, Jesus. Mary doesn’t realize it at first, but this gardener is everything Adam and humanity failed to be: God’s untainted image-bearer. We also see this connection between Adam in Jesus in other places in the New Testament. In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth we read these words which connect Adam and Jesus, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” And also a few verses later we find these words, “So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” Jesus is the beginning of a new humanity or another way to put that is that Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the process of God recreating the world. Jesus is re-created first and then someday the rest of humanity who are in relationship to God will be re-created along with the rest of the created order. When Jesus walks out of the tomb on that first Easter morning, hope for something more invades reality. God in Christ begins a whole new creation in the midst of this world’s brokenness. So Jesus comes out of the tomb that first Easter morning and the first person to see him is Mary Magdalene. At least she doesn’t initially see him because she is weeping. She doesn’t know what has happened. Now just the fact that Jesus chose Mary Magdalene to first appear to post-resurrection says so much about the upside down kingdom that has started with his resurrection.

You see the law courts of that day would not recognize the testimony of a woman, but Jesus did. If this story was made up or fabricated, would they have made their first witnesses to the resurrection, women, who were commonly, if unfairly, regarded as unreliable witnesses? I don’t believe so.

So through her tears she sees an angel and then she hears a voice and turns and sees someone. She thinks he’s the gardener. It’s a great mistake to make, because as I’ve said before, when Jesus is mistaken for a gardener we go right back to the creation story in Genesis 1-3 and begin to see the resurrection as the re-creation story. And it’s a way of saying, this is the garden and here is the Gardener and he has actually put the garden back to right. And will fully put it back to right at the end of all time, as described in the end of Revelation which also happens to end in a garden, the Garden of Eden restored, the way the world was supposed to be from the start.

So Mary sees Jesus and he speaks her name, not the name that we’ve had up till now in the Gospel-Maria, the Greek name, the name a Roman Soldier would have called her- but the name Miriam. Our English translations don’t pick this up, but that is what is in the Greek, Miriam. Miriam, the name she was always really called. Jesus calls her, through her tears, calls her by her true name, calls her to a new identity, which she’d never imagined before but being the one who is going to be the first witness of the resurrection.

Now Jesus calling to Mary (or Miriam) and giving her a new identity should also take us back to the first Creation account. The first Adam named the creatures. The second Adam renames his creation, gives them a new identity, a new purposes, a new life, a new hope, and a new creation. In fact new creation happens first in Jesus, through his resurrection, than happens to those who come and meet Jesus, and then those who have met Jesus and who have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17) are given something to do, to become agents of New Creation, working with the gardener Jesus to set the world right again. To help restore, redeem, renew, reconfigure, and recreate the world how it was always meant to be. Jesus started it with himself, continues it with us, and then will totally complete it at the end of the age.

But what does this all mean to you and I sitting here 2,000 years after the resurrection, in a day and age in which it doesn’t seem like the resurrection and the recreation isn’t moving forward, but going back.

Let me throw out some thoughts, and then we’ll unpack the idea of being a gardener and this act of new creation together.

If John 20:11-18 is a true story (and I believe it is) than this is the scene of the new Garden of Eden, one where God and humanity are reconnected, where reconciliation is forever woven back into the fabric of the world. Since Jesus truly is re-embodied, resurrected, then he is the tender, the keeper, the cultivator not just of the garden but of a whole new creation. He is the new Adam for a new community of people who live and act and worship in light of the resurrection. There are many ways this new creation is lived out. In the new creation both men and women announce the good news, that we have returned from exile, that God is present among us, and that the powers and principalities in our society do not have the final say. Like Mary, it doesn’t matter who you are or whether you had a role in the story up to now. This is why we also talk about the new creation in terms of new associations. There is an Easter way of relating to one another that doesn’t spread across families or ethnicities, but allegiance to Jesus and his way. From this point on, Jesus’ disciples become a social force, people who announce peace and who are for all people. They are a resurrection movement, a movement of people living within the reality of the new creation.

Discussion Questions: 1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc... do you have about the passage or the message? 2. What is the significance of Jesus being confused as the gardener? What is the role of a gardener and how does that tie in ultimately with Jesus, and also then by definition with those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus? 3. What does new creation look like in our world? Share a story or two of examples of new creation/resurrection happening in your life, a life of a friend, or in the world at large. How can we participate in new creation? 4. So how should you and I live as individuals and as a community of faith that seeks to live out resurrection/new creation? Give us some concrete ideas and thoughts.