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"No Ordinary Gardener"

SCRIPTURE TEXT – John 20:1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

20 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. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 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. 13 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.’” 18 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.

MESSAGE –  “No Ordinary Gardener”

Gracious and loving God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

What a beautiful morning it is! A day full of celebration as we witness the miracle of the empty tomb. As we journey to find Mary Magdalene ready to proclaim the Gospel, the witness of resurrection! What a wonderful celebration. But I think we must first recognize Mary Magdalene in that moment. For this first preacher of the Good News was not at all expecting for this to be how her Sunday morning started.

Mary Magdalene entered the tomb, expecting to find Jesus’ body so she could prepare for the proper burial so she could go through the rituals. I imagine she was still filled with grief, recalling what had taken place on the cross. Her eyes were teary, trying to muster the confidence to go in and face the tomb. But as she entered the cave where Jesus’ body laid, she found another shock. The tomb was empty. And I’m sure for Mary Magdalene the panic started to sink in, like the feeling when you are late for work and can’t find your keys so you turn over every cushion, look in places you haven’t been to in years, just to find them. I’m sure Mary’s reaction was “Oh crap.” “Where in the world was Jesus?” “Where was her teacher?” “Did someone come and take is body to continue his dishonor?” “Did she have the right cave?” Where in the world was Jesus?

Mary then rushes to the other disciples, and I think she is expecting them to help her in the search and find where this body went, since the ritual of burials were so important. There was the proper protocol to follow and steps which needed to happen. And for Mary Magdalene to not give her teacher a proper burial would be saddening and shameful. And so, Peter and the beloved disciple saw the empty tomb, but instead of needing to find the body, they left the tomb and continued to their homes. However, Mary Magdalene stayed there, probably searching for some way to explain what had happened. To go back to Jesus’ mother and say, “something happened.” Or to find an excuse to explain the situation. And then as Mary sits, someone approaches her, someone she assumes to be a gardener and he asks, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”  If it were me, I would mostly likely have talked back with a sarcastic tone, “I’m weeping because I just lost my friend, and I can’t find his body. I’m here I am panicking; I do not know what to do.”

I think many of us can relate to Mary Magdalene’s grief in the moment. Especially over the past year. With this pandemic there has been the constant feeling of “I do not know what to do.” For myself there have been many tears shed as I grieve the loss of loved ones, as my ‘normal’ day of life has been up rooted. I, like Mary Magdalene, often need that space to fully recognize the body is gone. There is grief and sadness, to recognize the humanity of life. I’ve jokingly referred to this past year as “perpetual Lent” because each day has been the constant reminder of our humanity, loss and pain. And I’ll admit I’m good with remembering for 40 days, but when it comes to being reminded of it for over 365 days, it tells a different story. It hits a little different. There has been great loss. And I know Mary sat with that loss too.

But as Mary Magdalene stood in that empty tomb, in the cave where her teacher had once been laid, and she talked to what she assumed to be a stranger, she soon discovered there was something more than just a missing body. She was face to face with her Rabbouni! She was face to face with Jesus.  As he called her by name, “Mary.” “Mary, it is me, the one whom you are looking for.” “The one who loves you dearly, I am here.” There is no need to mourn. There is no need to cry I am here! I am risen. I am alive.

It is interesting Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was a gardener because most of the places of burial in Jerusalem are tucked in caves. They are not beautifully landscaped gardens, with beautiful flowers or fruit. Instead, they’re dry rough rocks. But I think Mary knew there was something more to this figure, even if she could not immediately recognize him as Jesus, she knew he was one who could create, who was a life giver and would make sure everything was tended to. This gardener was no ordinary gardener. This was the gardener who could conquer death, who could bring about life out of nothing. This was the one who could show there was hope even in the midst of tragedy and pain. This “Gardener” as Mary Magdalene saw him, was the one to bring about a garden of new creation, of love and compassion. A place where all could bloom.

And during the past few months we have seen the glimmers of new life springing forth. The signs of new things to come. New creations. The creative art forms people have used to express this time, through music or painting. I think about how musicians continue to release music which speaks to the soul. We have found ways to connect with people who might have previously been isolated through virtual worship. And all the time, researchers and doctors have put in to ensure everyone might receive a vaccine. As more and more people get vaccinated, these become our way to experience life, after the pandemic. To reconnect with family and share hugs once more. To look at each other and call each other by name without a mask on. And while I wish I could say, today was the day where we receive this resurrection, it might be a little while, but there are those moments.

Early in the pandemic, I was finishing my last semester of seminary. Zoom classes are not the same as sitting in classrooms with friends. You miss the interactions and friendships. And right around Easter, we learned our graduation ceremony would be canceled. It was the first time ever a graduation did not happen. Even when there were World Wars, Garrett, my seminary, hosted graduation – to be for the world a sign of hope. Many of us were devastated. And it was a painful loss. We did not know what to do. What we thought would be a triumphant celebration, was a sad form of grief. But I will say, for myself I soon found there was life after this, there was hope and resurrection. As one of my friends, prepared a “graduation ceremony” for myself and two other close friends. This “ceremony” happened in a friend’s apartment, with diplomas made from construction paper. We each received our master’s hoods in the form of scarfs we each had. And our keynote speaker was our friend Maria, who gave the speech, but I have to admit, to me this was the best graduation ceremony I had ever attended. There was life, there was compassion, and it was great joy. My friend found a way to turn our grief into celebration and joy. To say, “Look you all are important and special.” “Even if we can’t all fit in a crowded church, we can be here, be present with each other.” She called us each by name. And I can say our grief, our sadness over the lost moment was turned into joy. It was a memory we all share. Processing into a living room, sitting on a couch, instead of a church pew. It was a small but mighty act.

Our tomb was empty but we found there were so many reasons to celebrate. Our grief, our pain does not have the final word.

And I think we all have had these moments, where we recognize, there is new life. The compassion from a stranger, the opportunity to make real change in our community. And this morning, this is what we celebrate, this is what is most important. The fact that the tomb was empty, that the cross, the pain did not have the final word.

While I am no master gardener, or even one who can always take care of my indoor house plants, I always find such great hope, as I see perennials drift away but then come back in the spring with new leaves, new flowers, with a new life. And on this day, by the power we see in the resurrection, by the power we see in Jesus coming back to life, overcoming death, we know there is new life. We know this a brand-new day. And this new day will change everything which is to come! May we like Mary Magdalene be ready to go from this place and share the resurrection and proclaim, “This is a brand-new day!”

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