Jesus in the Garden
20Early 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. 2So 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.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Here we are.
It’s been quite a year.
Last Easter, the pandemic was heating up like a deadly furnace. This past year has been one of the worst we’ve ever experienced.
A year ago, we wouldn’t have imagined we’d be in church on Easter Sunday, nearly all of us inoculated against the virus.
As recently as six months ago, we wouldn’t have imagined gathering on Easter Sunday.
But here we are.
Around the world, Christians of all denominations are celebrating the resurrection of Christ the Lord.
But not all Christians.
Millions of Protestants and Catholics celebrate Easter today. But millions of Eastern Orthodox Christians in Europe, Africa and the Middle East celebrate Easter later, because they use a different Christian calendar.
But this isn’t the only difference.
Christian historian John Dominic Crossan writes, “In the West, we have Jesus coming out of the tomb, alone, looking a bit like an athlete coming out well buffed from the gym. But in the East, you have Jesus holding the hand of Adam and Eve and leading them out of Hades. The Eastern churches have a universal vision of Jesus arising with all of humanity, symbolized by Adam and Eve. Western Christianity has a more individualistic vision of Jesus, arising glorious and triumphant but also solitary and alone. In the Eastern vision, all of humanity is inside the story. I’m participating in the story. It’s not outside of me; it’s not like somebody is doing it for me. We in the West have far too much substitution. We think it’s going to be done for us or already has been done for us. And that gives us nothing to do. The kingdom of God is here, but only if you enter into it. Only if you take it upon you.” – John Dominic Crossan
Jesus is restored. Resurrected, from death to life. Leading humanity out of Hades.
And we are all invited to be a part of that. Each of us is invited to be resurrected through Jesus Christ.
And where is this taking place? In a garden.
Humanity was created in a garden and humanity is redeemed in a garden on Easter Sunday.
Mary thinks that Jesus is the gardener, and she’s right. Jesus is bringing forth a new world, and new way of being, redemption and restoration.
Jesus is offering new life, to those who want it.
Like a gardener, Jesus cultivates miracles in the rocky soil that is our lives.
Miracles in our lives, like long loves and the laughter of children. Miracles like living through a deadly pandemic and surviving until it’s over.
Search our hearts, oh, Lord, and find fertile ground in which to grow miracles and wonders.
Walk with us, Jesus, through the gardens of our lives, and help us to grow. Help us grow closer to you, and closer to one another.
Help us, Jesus, grow deep, strong roots.
Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty, and she gets Simon Peter and the other disciple.
The other disciple? Who is this other disciple? Scripture doesn’t say. But the scripture invites us into that role. The text makes it easy to imagine ourselves in the place of the other disciple. The unnamed disciple.
We rush in looking for Jesus, and being unwilling to stop and rest, rush off again.
This is happening in our churches today. People come, don’t like what’s going on, and they rush right out again. Often times, it takes time, quiet and patience to feel the presence of God.
Other times, where four or three, or just two are gathered in his name, God can be felt.
Sometimes, when we are crying and alone, like Mary, Jesus finds us.
When we are weeping, Jesus comes to us.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus asks.
The First word spoken by the resurrected Christ – “Woman.”
The first witnesses of the resurrected Christ in all the Gospels were women – women who in that day were not allowed to testify in legal proceedings.
Christ appeared to women first in all four versions of the resurrection story.
Women were called by Christ to spread the good news, first.
Women were called to bear witness, to tell the story.
Christ called women first, to lead the way.
Christ called women to tell his story.
Even in his resurrection, Christ continued to challenge and change the culture.
Until they saw the resurrected Jesus, the disciples viewed the world the way others did. They feared the government and were hiding behind closed doors. They feared the Jewish authorities and the Romans who stood behind them. They feared the soldiers, the courts, the temples. And they were afraid of their own inadequacy and failure. Jesus had been taken by the authorities, and his disciples ran in fear. They failed Jesus, just as we sometimes feel we fail.
But something happened and the disciples lost their fear. A dejected and defeated group was filled with faith and confidence. They had seen the Lord, and they had been converted.
When the disciples saw Jesus, they came out of hiding.
Easter is the most important day in the Christian calendar. Some may say Christmas. But Christmas is when Christ was born – Easter is when Christ is reborn. In ancient times, baptisms took place on Easter Sunday – the holiest of Holy days. In our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) baptisms are being performed all over the country, during this hour.
We are born in God’s image. But we are reborn in Christ. Through Christ’s resurrection, we, too, will be resurrected.
This is the message of Easter . . . a message women were called by God to deliver.
But through time, women have been moved from the front of the Easter story to the back of the church, so much so, that to millions of Christians, women are not equal to men. Women can’t hold the same positions, can’t do the same things as men. Men made that decision, certainly not Christ.
If women ruled politics, theology and the world, the entire Christian faith would be based on the first word spoken by the resurrected Christ.
Men rule the world, so women don’t hold the same positions of authority in a vast portion of Christendom.
March is women’s history month in the United States, and women continue to struggle for equality in the world, in the church, in the pulpit and in sermons – every month of the year.
But for one day, this Easter, we see women where God wants them to be – in the forefront of Christ’s story.
“Whom are you looking for?” Jesus asks.
Jesus can ask the same of us, this Easter morning.
Whom are you looking for?
Are you seeing God working in the world?
Humanity was born into the Garden, and through the resurrected Christ, who first returned in a garden, we are all born again.
We are born in a state of grace. Born again in God’s garden.
When we leave this place, look around and look deeply at this wonderful world that the Lord has made. We will rejoice in it.
Rejoice in the laughter and the happiness. Rejoice in the joy. Rejoice.
Christ is risen.