The Glorious Garden
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Isaiah 25:6-9 John 19:41-20:18
Today, in the presence of these beautiful Easter lilies, I feel as though I'm in a very special garden. The lilies are white, symbolic of purity. White is also a color associated with God. The shape of the lilies is reminiscent of a trumpet, heralding the good news that Jesus Christ is risen! This is, indeed a glorious garden.
I was struck by the mention of the garden in the gospel reading. According to the Bible, Christ came here for our edification and for our redemption, to teach us and to save us. The Easter story as we know it is one of the crucifixion and the resurrection.
We know that Jesus died on the cross and was laid in a tomb. As we heard in the gospel reading this morning, when Mary went to the tomb to prepare the body for proper burial, she found to empty. She asked a man she took to be the gardener where she might find Jesus.
She expected to find a dead body, yet the Lord was standing in front of her. Not a dead body to be carried somewhere or laid somewhere, but a living being to stand tall, to recognize her and to speak with her. Only when he called her by name, were her eyes opened and did she recognize Jesus.
Jesus who was dead is now alive.
Why mention that the tomb was set in the midst of a garden? Why did she think Jesus was the gardener?
According to the Book of Genesis, humanity was banished from the Garden of Eden for transgressions against God. Yet, God still loves his people. God made covenantal relationships with Noah and Abraham and Sarah. We know that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. We understand a clear connection between Jesus and the new covenant.
On our behalf, Jesus was given up as a sacrificial lamb taking the place of humanity. In Biblical times, it was common practice to offer a sacrifice in order to obtain forgiveness or absolution for transgressions.
Could it be that the Easter story doesn't start 1600 pages into the Bible...in the Gospels in the New Testament; but instead, on page 2, in the very first book of the Old Testament?
This, from Genesis chapter two, verse eight, “And the lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east; and there he put the man who he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and, also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God told Adam and Eve that they could eat whatever they wanted, but “tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die” (2:17).
In the paradise that was the Garden of Eden, the master gardener there was no less than God Himself. In the Garden of Eden, there was no sadness and no death. Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit and their eyes were opened to the pain and suffering of this world. God sent them away from the Garden, but even then, he loved them.
In the Resurrection account we heard this morning, Mary is in the garden with the opened tomb. She is weeping, but her sadness comes to an end when she realizes that it is Jesus before her. Her eyes have been opened to hope and new life.
Jesus was crucified and rose on the third day. When he instructed Mary to share this good news, he said, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.
He included humanity in that announcement. My Father and your Father. My God and your God. That inclusion assures us that we, too, will share in Jesus' triumphant victory over death. Through Christ's sacrifice, we have been granted eternal life. His act, done our our behalf, assures us that we too, will have the honor and the privilege of joining him in his kingdom.
I'll ask that you hold the Garden of Eden in mind as I define a few of the words so common to the accounts of the Resurrection. The resurrection is a story of redemption.
“Redemption” means “the act, process, or instance of redeeming.” “Redeem” means, “repair”, “restore”, and “to atone for.” It also means, “to free from what distresses or harms”, “to free from captivity by the payment of ransom”, and “to free from consequences of sin”.
Jesus did free us. His crucifixion was payment for harm, debts, mistakes, and errors of judgment...none of which he committed. Yet his sacrifice served to atone for the sins of the world.
The word “Resurrection” means the rising of Christ from the dead. It's root is the Latin word “sugere” which means “to go straight up or rise.” Re-surrection, then is “re” plus “sugere”.
“Re” is a prefix that means “again, anew, and back”. Through the Resurrection, Jesus was victorious over death. Through the Resurrection, Christ became alive again, he was transformed, and he went back to Heaven. Through the Resurrection, Jesus opened eternal life to all who believe.
Jesus is risen and new life conquers death. Could it be that Jesus, assumed to be a gardener, shows us through his redemptive work, we have been reconciled back to to the garden?
We know that when Jesus was on the cross and one of the criminals said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”; Jesus replied that the criminal would be with him in Paradise. (Luke 23:42-43)
When you look up “Paradise” in the dictionary, you'll find, “the garden of Eden” and “Heaven”.
Christ is risen! We have been given the gift of eternal life. We give our praise. Let us remember also to give our thanks. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you God! Blessed be and Amen.