During Rev. Dominic’s sabbatical absence, we offer this Devotional Reflection from the United Church of Christ’s Cheryl Lindsay:
There is a meme on social media that essentially declares that while something or someone attempted to bury the person in question, the ones doing the burying did not know that person was a seed. The implication reminds us that burial has an alternative meaning. A seed placed in the ground leads to new life, even flourishing. But nearly every plant we see, every flower that perfumes the atmosphere, every tree or bush that takes root in the ground required, at some point, that a seed fall to the ground, be buried beneath the dirt, and die to its life as a seed. The transformation that takes place means that the seed has to relinquish its former self to become something new.
That something new emerges with essential properties that were found within the seed, but the process of planting adds to the mix. The nutrients the former seed and now emerging plant retrieves from the soil adds something to the mix. The warmth and energy from the sun and the refreshing of the rain add to the mix. The totality of all the steps in the journey add even more to the mix. The new life that springs forth needed a lot of things to go as planned…but none were as necessary as that seed letting go of itself.
Maybe that explains why it happened in a garden.
Gardens are a pervasive image in the biblical narrative. The second creation story, which amplifies the divine-human relationship is set in the garden. That garden is lush and abundant. We get the sense that garden overflows with perfect plants that do not even need tending to grow. The flowers have no thorn, and no stray branches litter the ground. The garden almost cares for itself. That garden is easy until the relationship between Creator and creation gets challenged. All of a sudden, the garden becomes work. The soil needs preparation, plowing, and planting. Weeds become a thing. Until then, no plant diminished or competed with another for nutrients and space. The human went from enjoying the abundance of creation to being burdened by the needs of creation. It happened in the garden.
In the events leading up to the crucifixion, we enter another garden. After that meal with his disciples, Jesus goes to the garden to pray, to communicate with the Parental God (Abba), and he brings his disciples with him to this place. We see a different failing in the divine-human connection as his disciples fall asleep. That particular part of the story isn’t told by John, but is recorded in other accounts. But John does point out that they next travel to another garden where Jesus is ultimately arrested. Before they can take Jesus away, Peter pulls out his sword and begins to fight. But, Jesus does not need defending and heals the wounded servant. It happened in the garden.
The setting of the Easter gospel reading is also in a garden. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb to care for the body of Jesus. It’s a loving act of honoring the dead. As a burial rite, it also provides a routine that helps the process of grief.
Mary’s search for Jesus’ body echoes the language of the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs), in which the female lover searches for her groom (see esp. Song of Sol. 3:1–4). Other parallels include the reference to “peering in” (John 20:5; Song of Sol. 2:9) and the use of spices (John 19:39; Song of Sol. 1:12; 3:6) (Reinhartz 1999). This is not to say that John portrayed Mary and Jesus as physical lovers. Even in the first century, the Song of Songs had acquired a spiritual interpretation as an allegory of the love between God and the covenant people, and it is likely that this allegory lies in the foreground of the Gospel’s allusions to the Song of Songs.Adele reinhartz
Shockingly, Mary discovers that Jesus is not there. Only the remnants of the cloth that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped around his body remain. The rock covering the tomb has broken free. And, instead of a path toward closure, Mary finds more questions. The only one available to ask is the gardener, which also tells us that the tomb was in the garden. Jesus had been buried in the garden.
We have to go back a few verses to read about his burial, but when we do we discover something interesting:
“There was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish Preparation Day and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus in it.” (John 19:41-42)
There wasn’t much distance there was between his place of death and his burial:
John’s Gospel is the sole source of the long-standing tradition that the site of the crucifixion and the site of the tomb of Jesus were almost side by side, and the sole canonical source of the tradition that the tomb stood within an enclosed “garden.” The “place where he was crucified” can only be “Skull Place,” or Golgotha (v. 17), suitable precisely because it was “nearby.” Haste was in order for the same reason the bones of the two victims were broken to hasten death (v. 31), “on account of the preparation of the Jews” (v.42).161 The “garden” is significant because it recalls that other “garden” (18:1) where “Jesus had often gathered” with his disciples (18:2), and where the account of his passion began. The two enclosed “gardens” frame the entire Johannine passion narrative, recalling the Shepherd’s enclosed “courtyard” (10:1, 16) and his care for the sheep. In the first, at his arrest, he protected them and kept them safe (18:8–9). In the second, in due course, he will meet one of them again, and call her by name (see 20:16). There Joseph and Nicodemus laid the body of Jesus. In contrast to the other three Gospels, nothing is said of the tomb being hewn from the rock or sealed with a stone.J. Ramsey Michaels
Jesus dies by the garden. I suppose his accusers and executions didn’t know that Jesus was a seed either. His hidden followers, Joseph and Nicodemus, didn’t realize that by placing his body in the tomb, they were also planting a seed in the ground.
We don’t know what happens between the burial and this moment. After all, seeds grow in darkness, covered and concealed by the nurturing soil. But we do know that the seed had to break open for new life to form. The darkness of the tomb is the soil that feeds the process of resurrection. When Jesus emerges, he is a new creation in a garden like the first human in the first garden. “Mary’s guess indicates that at first blush the resurrected Jesus was indistinguishable from an ordinary person.” (Andreas J.Köstenberger) Unlike the first human, Jesus is also identified as the Gardener. In Jesus, Creator and Creation are one and the same. “As the passion narrative begins in a garden (18:1-1), so the setting for the first resurrection appearance is likewise a garden (19:41), with its overtones of Paradise renewed (cf. Gen. 2:8-3:24).” (Dorothy A. Lee)
The prophecy of Isaiah ring powerfully: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” (Isaiah 65:17-18a)
This is the resurrection story. It’s a new heaven and a new earth being created by the Creator entering into and participating as Creation. It happened in the garden….Jesus emerged from brokenness to new life. Hallelujah! Christ is risen. God is creating. Rejoice…from the tomb.