Plant a Garden

Meditation on John 20:1-18

Easter Sunday 2022

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio

Link to Livestreamed Recording of the service:https://fb.watch/ctfNlBYj3q/

Do we have any gardeners in the room?

I was visiting with my next-door neighbor, Renate, a couple of days ago. Gardening and faith have been the basis of our friendship these past 3 years.

As we talked about my leaving soon to take a new call, we both had the same question. Would the next woman of the house be a gardener? Would she tend what has been planted? For a garden that is neglected is a sad thing, indeed.

Renate has encouraged me by sharing her passion for growing things and sharing many of the plants in her yard. She has given me Butterfly Bushes. Clematis. Hardy Geraniums. Moonflowers. Vinca. Campanula or Bell Flowers. Lamb’s Ear. Lemon Balm. Burning Bush. Anemone. Snowdrops. Rose of Sharon. And more.

Like young Mary and Colin in one of my favorite children’s stories—The Secret Garden—I have found strength and healing from planting and tending my garden—where not only flowering plants, trees and shrubs, but faith, hope, peace, joy, and love have grown.

***

Mary Magdalene is the first to discover the empty tomb in John’s gospel. She arrives early on the first day of the week, while it is still dark. Her grief very likely kept her from sleeping—as grief often does. But when she sees the empty tomb, she leaves in a panic to wake up two other disciples who are closest to Jesus—Simon Peter and “the one whom Jesus loved.” They, too, come and see. She has probably come to the tomb with other women, at first, as it would be dangerous for her to come alone in the dark. She says to the two male disciples, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 

   Simon Peter and the other disciple see the empty tomb, the linen wrappings, and the cloth that had been on his head. And they believe that his body is gone, but they don’t yet understand what it means—that Jesus is alive.

    They go home. But Mary stays, weeping outside the tomb. Two angels appear and try to comfort her. They ask why she is crying.  She tells them that she believes someone has taken Christ’s body away. “And I do not know where they have laid him,” she says.

   Then she turns and runs into Jesus outside the tomb. She doesn’t recognize him, even when he asks her why she is weeping—and who she is looking for.

    Mistaking him for the gardener, she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 

     I have never thought that Mary mistaking Jesus for a gardener has ever been accidental or random. For John connects Jesus to the Creation story in Genesis, starting his gospel with the same phrase Genesis uses: “In the beginning.”

  “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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

   In Genesis, the Lord God plants a garden that would be the home for human beings, whom God the gardener would make in his image. The Lord would give the first man his vocation, calling Adam to be a gardener, too. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden,” says Genesis 2:15, “to work it and take care of it.”

     Jesus has a special ministry in mind for Mary. She will be the first apostle, sent out to bear witness to the male disciples about Christ’s resurrection and ascension.   Mary believes and obeys immediately, running to tell the others that she has seen the Lord!

    Christ is alive!

    ***

    Friends, with Christ’s resurrection, we live as the people of hope who no longer fear death. For we, too, will be resurrected with Him to eternal life. In Christ, we are NEW creations. Forgiven for our sins, the old has passed away. We are Christ’s light shining into the darkness, bearing witness, as Mary Magdalene did. We are continually being transformed into something more beautiful—like a bulb that becomes a flower. Something God alone can see.

   The Lord has entrusted each of us with a unique ministry, gardens to plant and tend with love and care. We are responsible to prepare the soil, sow seeds, water, weed, and prune, when necessary. But it is best to garden with friends and neighbors. God doesn’t expect us to labor alone.

    Remember that in all your work, don’t lose sight of the One you are working for: the Divine Gardener. Keep the Lord at the center of your life. Remember that God is responsible for the growth—in yourself and others.

    I have come to the conclusion, my friends, that I won’t be able to take the garden that I planted in Coshocton with me to my next call. There’s no room in our vehicles for plants. They will have to stay and be a blessing to others.

    I am sad that I won’t be able to bring you to my next call. But I will always carry you in my heart. I pray that the seeds we planted and nurtured together through this ministry will grow into a wonderful garden, bearing eternal fruit.

    Brothers and sisters, don’t let anything discourage you. For we are Easter People! We always have hope and joy in what Christ has done. Don’t let anything cause you to think that what you do as a church won’t make a difference. Small acts of kindness are NEVER small. Remember your faith and call to serve God and neighbor come from Christ and rely on Christ alone—and nothing and no one in this world.

    Paul urges us to persevere in 1 Cor. 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

    N. T. Wright offers this encouragement, “You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s about to be thrown into a fire. You are not planting roses about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, comfort and support for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, every Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and that makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that one day God will make.” (Wright, 207-208)

Dear friends, children of the Resurrection, God’s beloved, go and plant a garden—work it and take care of it, as our Divine Gardener commanded the first human created in God’s image.

May you find strength and healing from tending your garden as I did while I lived here with you—where not only flowering plants, trees and shrubs, but faith, hope, peace, joy, and love will grow.

Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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