On Gardens

in which I take a slight detour from How To Be Human

What Matt touches upon is what was being gently revealed to me, last night, as I watched The Passion of the Christ: Our God loves gardens. There’s a part in that unapologetically awesome movie I used to think was a mere overuse of artistic license; when Satan sends a snake from under his robes to the Christ laying prostrate in prayer in the dark blue of Gethsemane. But last night, feeling particularly slow for not grasping it before, I realized Gibson was not arrogantly adding a dash of cinematic drama to the Agony in the Garden, but was revealing a blindingly-obvious biblical parallel, one I can’t believe I never noticed. The snake is the serpent. Christ is the new Adam. Garden of Eden, Garden of Gethsemane.

In the former, Adam walks from perfect union with God into suffering. In the latter, Christ – the New Adam – falls willingly into suffering so that we might have perfect union once again. Through the strength of his passion, Jesus Christ redeems us of the weakness of Adam’s submission, and at its very beginning the God-man is offered the same temptation, by the same ancient and seductive snake. You shall not die, but be like God! whispers the serpent to Adam. You need not die, need not drink this cup! our Lord is tempted by the same. It is the same story, different garden. But where Eden – the garden of delight and innocence – would crumble and sag watching it’s gardener cast out by a fiery sword, Gethsemane would receive new glory. And a new Gardener.

Perhaps the reason Gibson and I think of Gethsemane of a dark and foreboding place is that it is – in many ways – Eden in disrepair. It is nature tainted by sin. It is the dream rudely cut short. But – though all hope of restoration might have been lost – the Gardener has for thousands of years – since the very beginning – been trekking back. He will not abandon such innocence to such weeds, such love to ruin. He arrives at the gate and passes through, dismissing the sentinel with a wave of his hand, full of a power the Tempter must have trembled at. So momentous is the task, so monstrous the accumulated sin of all mankind, so beyond repair the garden, He sweat blood over it’s restoration, that Passover night two thousand years ago. And he is tempted to quit.

At least skip to 5:45 until the end. The look Christ gives Satan says simply: not again.

Gethsemane means, literally, oil-press. Fruit – like the olives that grew in Gethsemane – was pressed, its very essence squeezed out into oil, a liquid, its skin and pits and stems cast away. It is true to say that Christ was being pressed, his rasion d’etre beginning to pour out in blood and tears, his very being emptied out like a libation to the Father. But it is also true  – I believe –  to say that the forbidden fruit of Adam and Eve was being pressed. The oil, the heart of the matter was being revealed. The only command humanity was given – to ‘not eat of the tree’ – wasn’t about the tree or the fruit itself – that was but the skin, the pit, the stem. The command, the very essence of the command, was what C.S Lewis’ Ransom describes in Perelandra:

I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? […] Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless his bidding is the only reason?  

Obedience. Adam, on hearing the call to disobey God, ate the fruit and was doomed to die, and we with him. The fruit turned bitter in his stomach, and in the stomach of all man. But the Gardener takes that old, old bitterness, takes the very essence of the command – obedience – the oil of the fruit, and drinks it out of a cup. A cup so bitter he wishes it would pass over him, that there were any other way to restore humanity. All because his Father commanded it. Your will be done, says the new Gardener, and the serpent is crushed. It’s as if Adam, seeing Eve reach for the fruit, had pushed her aside, strangled the snake to death and pulled her into his arms. It came later, with much pain and preparation, but the command was obeyed. Jesus Christ undid the sin of Adam.

So perhaps we can sympathize when Mary Magdelene will mistake Jesus Christ for the Gardener. She is we, who look for our lover, as he was sought in the Song of Songs. And he is there, repairing the Garden, making Gethsemane Eden once again, in our hearts and in our world. “I am come into my garden, my sister, my bride: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.”

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