Sermon for Sunday, April 16, 2017 || Easter Day, Year A || John 20:1-18
On three occasions over the last couple years, I have left Home Depot laden with weather-treated boards and decking screws. I brought the materials home, lugged them to the backyard, and set about shaping them into rudimentary boxes. I’m not much of a carpenter, so “rudimentary” is actual quite a compliment. Thankfully, all these boxes have to do is sit in the sun and rain, full of soil and compost and manure.
You see, my wife Leah has become quite the gardener since we moved to Mystic. There was a single three foot by six foot box in the yard when we arrived, a remnant from a previous occupant. I built another the same size, and, let me tell you, the tomatoes Leah grew that first year were…mwah…delicioso! I put in a 4 x 8 bed last fall, which now has little stalks of garlic reaching through the soil. And a few weeks ago, I knocked together the last box, a long narrow one, 12 x 2, for peas. Needless to say, the surface area for gardening at the rectory has tripled in the last year, and I am looking forward to eating the results.
There’s something right about having a garden on church property, and now we have two: the memorial garden and my family’s vegetable garden, a few dozen feet away. The first holds the ashes of those who have died, and their ashes nurture the grass and flowers that are growing even now on this Easter morning. It is a garden that recalls to us the Resurrection: new and beautiful life on the far side of death. The second garden holds the seeds of sustenance for my family. This summer it will sustain us, in part, day in and day out.
Both the memorial and the vegetable gardens have something to teach us as to why we’re here this morning celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are people of the Resurrection, as the memorial garden reminds us. And we are people of the Way, disciples of Jesus Christ, who walk daily with our Lord, as the daily nutrition of the vegetable garden reminds us. We must take these two identities together or neither makes sense. Without the power of the Resurrection, which we proclaim this morning, the Way we follow is a road to nowhere. And without the daily activity of our following, the Resurrection is reduced to a vague mechanism that matters only in the distant hereafter.
As he so often does, Jesus desires both for us, both the reality of the Resurrection and the dailiness of discipleship. As we follow Christ, day in and day out, we will begin to discover the Resurrection is operative now, right now, here on earth as it is in heaven. The power of God that makes Resurrection real is the same power of God that spurs us to work for healing and reconciliation in this broken world of ours.
This broken world of ours…
Where the priorities of the powerful are often far from God’s dream for creation; where chemicals maliciously delivered poison children to death; where there is enough food but not enough justice to distribute that food fairly; where differences among people lead to hate and separation instead of discovery and appreciation; this broken world of ours…
The story of scripture tells us the brokenness began in another garden called Eden. This story doesn’t need to be factually accurate to be true; indeed, as one scholar says, the story of Adam – “person of earth” – and his partner Eve “never was, but always is.” These two had it all and they didn’t even know it. They were blessed with abundance and the notion of scarcity never entered their minds. They lived in tune with the God who created them; they resonated with God’s movement like mellifluous notes of the same chord.
Then something happened. They did the one thing God asked them not to do. In all the world, there was but one rule, and they broke it. In the breaking, they created their own punishment, for by their own doing they had separated themselves from God. They no longer played notes of the same chord; they no longer resonated with God’s movement. The punishment was called sin; that is, all we do and don’t do that leads us to separate ourselves from God. Over time, sin became institutionalized; sin became part of the structure of the world, part of the machinery.
The machinery of sin, as symbolized by an empire of domination and death and fear, killed the one person in all the world who was not tainted by the stain of sin; the one person in all the world who knew what it was like in that garden called Eden before the brokenness bent the backs of Adam and Eve; the one person in all the world who was there in the beginning with God and who was God.
And so it’s no surprise that our story this morning takes place in another garden, a garden in which a tomb stands empty. In this garden the brokenness of Eden would be mended, and the consonant chords of communion with God would ring out once again. Our friend Mary Magdalene is there, slumped over by the empty tomb, weeping. She doesn’t know where the body of her Lord has gone; she even accuses the gardener of taking it.
But of course, he’s not the gardener at all. He’s the Risen Christ. He calls her name, and she hears the two precious syllables resonate within her: “Mary.” And she knows his promises are true; they’re all true. She leaps into his arms, and they have their moment of recognition, of resonance. And then he says, in effect, “We still have work to do.”
We still have work to do because Jesus did not break the machinery of sin. His death on the cross showed that it had always been broken. And his resurrection shows that brokenness is not the only mode of creation. The garden of the empty tomb is a chance for a new start, a new Eden, a place of new wholeness and abundant, eternal life.
The two gardens on these church grounds point to our participation in the work that is still to be done, this mission of God that we are blessed to be a part of. The memorial garden points to the power of the Resurrection, the ultimate reconciliation of God with God’s creation. We resonate with this mission by being agents of healing and reconciliation in our own lives. This is hard work. All worthwhile work is hard. And so we have the other garden, the vegetables, the daily nutrition of discipleship, of relationship with Jesus, of following our Lord where he leads. With his nourishment in the word of scripture, in the community of God’s people, and in sharing the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we find the sustenance to resist the broken machinery and to proclaim the reconciling love of God.
The garden of Resurrection and the garden of cultivation: taken together they form the trajectory of our lives of faith, our lives following the Risen Christ. So come this morning. Come for sustenance, for the nourishment of new life. Then go and help that new life grow, bringing wholeness to this broken world. You know what? I suppose Jesus is the gardener after all.
Art: Detail from “A Corner Of The Garden At Montgeron” by Claude Monet