Scripture Reading (CEB) John 20:1-18
1 Early 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.
A Good Enough Faith
Over this Lenten Season, we’ve been trying to better understand our good enough selves – the selves that God at the beginning of creation deemed good. We’ve been trying to believe that declaration ever since. We never feel we measure up. We self-talk ourselves out of confidence. We hold up our achievements only to have them wither in our hands as we compare them to others. We practice humility that spirals into self-destruction. We focus on our failure which prevents us from risk and growing. We are vulnerable, and we need one another, in spite of living as wildly independent beings. We are good enough – and this is our good enough faith – full of death and despair.
Yet, Easter doesn’t undermine death. Neither does it justify it. Easter doesn’t erase the pain witnessed by those at the foot of the cross. The eventual rebuilding of Ukraine will not erase the remembered horrors of war. The right relationship work we need to do with First Nations people does not cancel out the intergenerational PTSD passed down from parent to child to grandchild. Easter doesn’t undermine the pain of the world. It only promises that pain is not always the end of the story.
adapted from “A Good Gardener” devotion from “Good Enough” by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie.
Adaptations will be made in italics
The sun hasn’t peeked over the horizon yet. The greenish haze of the moon offers barely enough light to move about. And, according to John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is awake. Grief does that to you. A day stretches into night. The moon chases the sun into day again. The circadian rhythm cannot win against the restlessness of an unsettled mind or a broken heart.
Days before, Mary’s beloved friend and teacher was murdered. The Sabbath meant burial preparation had to be left unfinished, and as soon as the clock released her, Mary made her way back to the tomb. But when she arrived, the stone had moved. Jewish custom took seriously the first seven days of grieving, so to strip people from enacting final acts of love would have been a cruelty to fragile mourners. Even Gentile grave robbers would have left the body behind out of respect.
She takes off to find Peter and John, who confirm her fear: the body is missing. And yet, the bed has been made. The pieces of cloth they swaddled him in are perfectly folded in his stead.
Undone by the layered grief, the men don’t linger but head home. First, they lose their teacher and friend. Now, his body has been desecrated. It is too much for anyone to bear. I wonder if they try to get Mary to come along, to leave this place of death and get some sleep. The bags under her bloodshot eyes must have given away her exhaustion. But instead, she stays, posted at the last place she saw Jesus, like a soldier keeping watch. She peers inside the tomb again. This time, it isn’t empty. But she doesn’t see who she is looking for. Two people dressed in white sit where Jesus once lay. “Why are you crying?” A rather heartless question to ask in a
cemetery. Heaving through sobs, she tells them what’s wrong. “They’ve… taken . . . him.”
Then, turning to leave, she nearly bumps into a man with dirt under his fingernails. He too asks her, “Why are you crying?” Through tear-blurred eyes, she mistakes him for the gardener and begs him to tell her where Jesus’s body lies. What a strange detail: the resurrected Christ is mistaken for a gardener.
Maybe it’s because he stole the gardener’s clothes, since his were stripped and gambled over.
Maybe because where Jesus was crucified was a garden. A tiny, beautiful detail that reminds us that death is never too far from new life.
Maybe Jesus looks like … the first gardener, who tended Eden barefoot. Maybe Jesus looks like the new Adam, the head gardener for the new Eden of the new heavens and new earth.
Maybe it’s because he carries the pruning shears of a vinedresser, the careful tender of our souls, ready to pluck and plant, uproot and cut back.
Maybe he looks ready to cultivate new life, to pull us toward resurrection with his fingers digging in among the worms.
Or maybe this gardener looks like he knows something about hope –
hope that Mary desperately needs.
A gardener knows the kind of hope it takes to sow a seed [or a bulb] in the ground, to cover it with manure, to bury it in the cold winter dirt surrounded by naked trees…
…Gardening requires a certain kind of hope, envisioning new life in the midst of despair and death. Gardeners toil and trowel, pluck and prune, all for a single bloom. The very act of gardening is one of hope…
To leave it be for months, trusting that with the magic amount of water, air, and time something new will be born out of a single seed. A seed doesn’t taste very good or have any real nutritional value. It really has no purpose until it’s planted by a good gardener. Yet inside a tiny seed is all the genetic information needed to grow into a complete plant. And, under the right conditions, this tiny speck will sprout and root, bud and bloom. What grows might provide food, shelter, or awe. Sometimes a giant sequoia or a bush weighted with juicy raspberries or a flamboyant peony. But the first step to creating life from this insignificant genetic package? You must bury it. A seed reaches its potential only when it is buried. When things look most lost, most dark, most covered, most long-gone, most hopeless … that’s when the seed is undergoing the most important change. Through its death, it might produce much fruit.
Seeds must be buried, but some even need more drastic circumstances to allow for new life to bust through the thick seed coat. Some need to be exposed to almost freezing temperatures before they will germinate. Sequoia seeds germinate only when burnt. Some seeds when ballooned with water finally burst open. Some when they are kept in the pitch black for a long time. Hard-shelled seeds must be scarred, cracked, or manually broken open. Some need to be eaten by animals and, ahem, released. And still others must sit dormant for several years before something mysterious triggers them to sprout. [All that work – all that pain – if only for growth.]
And that first burst of life that breaks through the seed coat after it has been buried? It’s called “the radicle.”
This gardener knows the hope it takes to believe that through the death, the freezing, the fire, the floods, the darkness, the crushing, the consumption, the waiting-even there, new life can be born.
This is the radical moment of new life bursting forth from seeming death. Gardeners are delighted, yes, but not surprised. They know what can grow out of the cold, hard winter ground. And while spring may be predictable to gardeners, resurrection is not.
This Gardener knows something about that, though. Mary doesn’t recognize that the gardener is Jesus – not until he calls her by name. Like a gardener who can name every variation of plant growing in his plot. What is it about this voice that feels so recognizable? What is it about your name on a familiar tongue that feels so comforting?
Finally, Mary knows. “Rabbouni,” she exhales the weight of despair. My dearest teacher.
Maybe this is what it means to be an Easter person – to see Christ and think, Gardener, not as a mistaken identity but a prophetic one. The seed in the ground, the body in the tomb- this is a picture of defiant hope. All of the labor and sweat and love and precious time for a single bloom. Delicate and bold. Brief but memorable.