Easter Sunday, 2016 – John 20:1-18
Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
A long time ago, there was a man who was a gardener. And it was the best job in the world. He literally was in the perfect garden, a garden so lush and teeming with life we can't comprehend it, even after a trip to the best botanical garden in the world today. And it was the best job in the world. This gardener, Adam by name, and his wife Eve were simply to tend this garden, and live there, enjoy the bounty thereof. But they blow it. The forbidden fruit is eaten, and Adam rips apart the garden, brings sin and death into the world. Genesis chapter 3 starts with Adam and Eve being in the garden – Genesis chapter 4 has Adam and Eve having to sit by and watch as one son murders another, watching and knowing that we were the ones who messed this all up. And the world was changed, was broken. And he died.
Now, let's jump many, many years later – still almost 2000 years ago, but down the road from Adam. People have gotten used to death. Become accustomed to it. And this is what we hear just before our Gospel lesson this morning, the very end of John 19, of our Lord's Passion. “Now, in the place where [Jesus] was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” Do you see the change in what a garden is? The garden of life is replaced by a garden designed for death. We don't get to live in the garden – no, while we're alive we're stuck with hard work out in the real world, but at least where our dead are laid, we try to keep the grass neat, have some flowers, maybe some well tended trees. What a turn around. And so, Sunday morning, early, we hear this. “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Mary, early, returns to the second garden. Adam and Eve couldn't have gone back to the first garden – there was an angel with a fiery sword to keep them from doing that. But Mary trudges out early in the morning, heads there with a grim task. The burial had been so sudden, the death so violent and public and perhaps close to a riot, that the women hadn't be able to do their part, to prepare the body for a burial. Oh sure, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had wrapped Jesus' body in spices, but then as now, there are just some things women didn't trust men to do right. A lot of distrust since that first garden. But at any rate, there was a barrier for Mary – not an angel to keep the living out of the garden, but a giant stone. Meant to keep scavenging animals away from the dead, meant to keep the smell away from the living. But that barrier, that stone, that thing meant to separate the living and the dead – it's been rolled away.
So Mary runs. Runs to Peter and John. Two disciples. They should know what to do! Mary says, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Mary thinks it's even worse than scavengers. Maybe the Romans have come to defile the body, maybe the chief priests are ordering yet more shame to be heaped upon her Lord. So Peter and John take off – John notes that he, being younger and faster than old Peter, gets there first – but John just stops and stares in wonder at the empty tomb. Peter, he might be a bit slower but he's a lot bolder – he just charges in. “He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” The cloth shouldn't be there. If animals had busted in somehow, they wouldn't have been so neat. If the Romans or the Jews had carried His Body away, they would have kept the cloth, used it to carry Him. And they are stumped, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” And John admits it – we didn't know, we didn't understand what was happening, because we didn't know the Scripture. Of course Jesus was going to rise, that had been the point all along. But they didn't get it. And so, they go home.
Mary, Mary doesn't. Poor forgotten about Mary. She runs to get help from Peter and John, and they just leave her there. Good job men, way to be polite. Men dropping the ball when it comes to serving women, something else we've seen way too much of since the fall. But at any rate, “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 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.'” Oh, Mary – she sees, but she doesn't see quite yet. Instead of the angry angel with the fiery sword that will cut you down – this Garden now has a pair of nice, comforting angels. This is a step up. But Mary, doesn't quite grasp it yet. And she turns to leave. “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?'” Mary is so distraught, so upset at the turns and twists her life in the world has taken, that she can't even recognize Jesus standing in front of her. And hear what Jesus says – it's not “Wumman, why ya weepin'?” It's actually very polite language – Miss, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?
“Supposing Him to be the gardener...” Just hold that in your back pocket for a moment - “Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” How distraught is Mary? The best she can hope for, the help she thinks to ask for is – let me drag a corpse through this garden. And Jesus gives her more than should could have possibly imagined in that moment. “Jesus said to her,'Mary,' She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means Teacher).” Jesus calls her by name. No, Mary, you don't get to drag me through the garden. And this is funny, it's joyous. Mary glomps on to Him, gives Him a massive bear hug – and He says, “Do not cling to Me, for 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.'” No, Mary, I told you that you don't get to drag Me through the garden. So, let go. I've got stuff to do, gal. Come on – you go tell the disciples that I have risen and that I am putting everything in order again. And she listens – she trusts Jesus to do this right – and she tells all these things to the disciples.
Here's something neat in this text. Mary was right, more right than she knew, when she was supposing Jesus to be the Gardener. You see, the whole point of everything in Jesus' life was to clean up the mess of things that Adam had made. St. Paul will use that language of Old Adam and New Adam, Old Man and New Man. Old and New Gardener works just as well. His entire ministry was Gardening. People needed to be fed and watered, demons need to be weeded out, diseases need to be cleaned up. Here we see Jesus, standing there in that garden, which had been a garden of death, standing triumphant. Because this isn't the first time we've see Jesus take a walk in a garden. And I'm not even talking about the Garden of Gethesame on Maundy Thursday.
No, many, many years ago, the Word of God, the LORD God almighty, had been taking a walk in His garden as He was wont to do. Of course did – as John 1 reminds us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him.” So of course the Word, the LORD God would go walking through His garden. But that day, it was different. His creation, His highest and favorite, Adam and Eve, they had sinned. They're off hiding in the bushes. And the Word, the LORD God, called them out, got them to confess what had happened, and He does have to let them deal with some of the temporary consequences of their actions. For a time, things were going to be lousy for His Adam, His Eve, for their children and His children. But in the middle of dealing with Adam and Eve, the Word of God pauses, because if His creation is going to be rightly tended, He's going to have to be the One to do it. And standing in that Garden as the fall comes sweeping in, the LORD God Almighty eyeballs Satan and says “You don't get to mess with mankind. I'm going to become Man, because there's some emnity between you and me, Satan, and I'm going to become Man and fix it. You'll strike, you'll bruise my heel, but I'm going to crush you, I'm going to crush this death you've helped bring about.”
And there, on Easter morning, stands Christ Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, the LORD God almighty. There He stands, with pierced, bruised feet, staring at an empty tomb in a middle of a garden. The time of gardens being a place of death is passing – there's a touch more for Jesus to do. And He gets to it. Now He has, as He told Mary and through her the disciples, ascended to the Father. And He's going to come again, and when he does, every tomb in every garden on this planet will burst open, and out will stride His brothers and sisters, from Adam and Eve, on to us, on to any generations that might come after us. And then, He will give us a new heavens and a new earth – the New and Better Gardener will plant us a new one without even a hint or memory of death in it.
Until then, we are in the here and now. We still mess up, still have distrust and a lack of concern for others that pops out more often than not. And even, sometimes, in the midst of our tears we don't always see our Risen Lord and Savior as we ought. But here, my friends, is the truth, the truth we rejoice in and celebrate this Easter Morn. Christ Jesus our Lord is Risen – He has defeated Satan and Sin and Death. And you know what – He's a good Gardener, and He tends you. The Good Gardener has watered you, watered you in Holy Baptism – so what you hear in John 20 is yours – His death and resurrection is your death and resurrection. The Good Gardener even feeds you, gives you Himself, so that the very bread of life comes to you and forgives you now, promising you the resurrection. Because of Christ, on every single day of your life, from the best to the worst, I can say that Christ Jesus has won you forgiveness and life. He had told us on the Cross that sin and death and all junk is finished. What remains for you is life, His life, life everlasting. All thanks and praise be to Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!