The Gardener

Meditation on John 20:1–18

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

April 9, 2023: Easter Sunday

Pastor sharing her message:

Art by Stushie

Are there any Star Trek fans here? Any Trekkies?

I’m not a fan. I can’t believe I am saying that in public. Not a fan of the original series that lasted 3 seasons, beginning with a failed pilot in 1965. They had to start over and make another one! Putting aside the problems of goofy special effects and terrible writing, with flat, stereotypical characters, and predictable plots, strong, smart women were almost completely left out of the story. The main characters were men; the decision makers WERE MEN. Even the stated mission was male-centered: “to explore strange, new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

The only strong female character I recall was Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols. Do you remember her? She was a translator and the chief communications officer for the Starship Enterprise. But her character was less significant, often with fewer lines than the male officers—Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Sulu, Bones. Still, when she said, “Captain,” Kirk listened—and so did we. Her role was groundbreaking for African American actresses on American television at the time.

Nichelle Nichols playing Uhura on Star Trek in the mid 1960s.

 Nichols said that she felt like quitting on many occasions. She went as far as handing in her letter of resignation to Gene Roddenberry. He told her to take the weekend off and think about it. That weekend, she met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a NAACP event. Star Trek was the only show that he and his wife Coretta would allow their three little children to stay up and watch.

When she told him that she was considering leaving the show, he persuaded her that she was making a difference—combating ignorance and opening doors for others to follow her. “You cannot, you cannot..,” he said, “for the first time on television, we will be seen as we should be seen every day, as intelligent, quality, beautiful people, who can sing, dance, and can go to space, who are professors, lawyers…If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a black role, and is not a female role; he can fill it with anybody even an alien.” [1]

Later, as she continued to play a role that often made her feel insignificant, she was encouraged by a flood of letters from women inspired by her work. Little girls wanted to be Uhura. Meanwhile, TV stations refused to run the show because there was a “black woman on the bridge.” Years later, Nichols would recruit the first women and minority astronauts for NASA’s Space Shuttle program. Her “radical impact” would be recognized and memorialized in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

I feel completely different about the newest Star Trek that Jim and I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. Has anyone been watching Star Trek: Picard? The show is full of strong, smart women and men—whose characters are flawed and realistically human, even those who aren’t technically human beings. The series features the retired Starfleet admiral Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart. (It picks up where Star Trek: The Next Generation left off.)

Each season of Picard explores different aspects of the character in his old age. It begins with him “deeply affected by the death of the character Data…(and) the destruction of the planet Romulus. Retired from Starfleet and living on his family’s vineyard, he is drawn into a new adventure” when he is visited by someone who appears to be a “daughter of Data, one of several new synthetic beings, or ‘synths.’ Picard fights for their right to exist and gives his (human) life to save them.” [2]

He experiences a rebirth as a synth, not human anymore, but becoming more human than he was– more open and sensitive, introspective, caring. More of his past is revealed, and he begins to see himself and others with new understanding. He literally comes out of the darkness and, increasingly, into the light. In this new story, old enemies become friends and work together to solve large-scale problems that affect not just one planet or human beings, but entire universes, with a diversity of creatures.

In this new story, there is hope for change, for forgiveness and reconciliation, even with less than perfect parents, children, spouses, and friends. Even after years of brokenness. They are fighting old, bad habits and addictions—their own failings and inner darkness, as well as the baffling darkness of ignorance and misunderstanding in the people around them. And they are battling the ever-present threat of the darkness of evil, despite their efforts to eradicate it.

Lingering questions arise as the series draws to a close. What is life? What is death? And will love conquer all?

Mary’s story in the 20th chapter of John, though thousands of years old, is remarkably modern and relevant. This story deals with the same questions of life and death and the power of Love!

Although Mary is not numbered in the official original 12, she is not inferior to the male disciples. While many women in the Bible are not named, she is not just Mary, a common name for a woman in her time. She is specifically “Mary Magdalene” or Mary of Magdala, a fishing village. She is the strong and persistent one—the one who shows up, while the others are still sleeping or hiding. Don’t be tempted to see her tears as weakness! Remember how Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus.

While it is still dark, Mary Magdalene comes to the place where Jesus was laid. All by herself. This is dangerous! “Still dark” tells us how early it was. It’s the middle of the night! The darkness is also her grief and the ever-present evil in the world that cried out for the Messiah’s crucifixion and continues to threaten the safety of his followers. But it is also the darkness of misunderstanding and confusion by the disciples, who never expected Jesus to die. What do they do—now that he is gone? Now that the story didn’t end the way it was supposed to end?

As soon as Mary arrives at the tomb—she sees what she cannot understand. The heavy stone that cannot be removed has been removed! Notice, John doesn’t tell us yet that the body is gone! Mary tells us when she runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple, “the one whom Jesus loved.” “We don’t know where they have laid him!” she says.

They are all running now—but the one who beats them all to the tomb is the one who has only one role, as theologian Gail O’ Day writes, “to embody the love and intimacy with Jesus that is the goal of discipleship in John….Love and intimacy with Jesus gets to Easter first!”

The other two disciples who have responded to Mary see the empty tomb, the linen wrappings, and the cloth from his head; they “see” and “believe” but still DO NOT understand what they are seeing. For they don’t understand the scripture, John says, “that he must rise from the dead.” The darkness of ignorance leads to depression, fear, helplessness. The two male disciples go home, leaving Mary to look for Jesus. Look for answers. In a dangerous place. I can’t understand why the other disciples leave her—unless they are too afraid to stay or just expect her to follow them home.

In her darkness of grief, she weeps outside the tomb, looks inside, and discovers the first stream of light—two angels, dressed in white. But even the sight of the angels fails to lift her spirit. They ask why she is crying. She tells them that she doesn’t know where the people have taken Christ’s body.

Dear friends, her own despair clouds her vision. Jesus is standing there, and she only sees “The Gardener.”  The problem isn’t locating a body. The problem is failing to see the Risen Christ!

We are Easter People, dear friends. We rejoice with Mary’s declaration, “I have seen the Lord!” and accept her call as our own—to tell others the good news. We have the power of Love within us to help us experience a kind of rebirth by faith, to live new, resurrected lives with Christ today.

We have come to worship our God of second chances, a merciful and gracious God who wouldn’t allow death to have the final word! A God who offers all of us new beginnings and transformation by the power of the Spirit and the suffering work of the Son! We trust in a God who longs to embrace us with everlasting, unconditional love and has promised to come again to carry us HOME.The challenge for all of us is, “How do we live as Easter People every day, throughout our struggles—on the inside and outside of us? How do we see the Risen Christ and the angels, when we are tempted to stare into the gloomy dark?”

Look around you now. These are just a few of the people whom God has placed in our lives, people who remind us of the marvelous things that God has done by the way they live each day. These are people who help to love you into being you—the you God wants for you. People who model grace and forgiveness and help us walk in the way of peace and kindness.

But as you are looking around this room—people are also looking at you. I am looking at you. You, too, without your knowing it, remind others of your hope in the Risen Christ by the way you live. You might get discouraged sometimes. You might feel like nothing is going the way you planned it to be. You might think you have a tiny, insignificant part in the story of God and the salvation of human beings. Maybe you think what you do doesn’t matter!

But that would be wrong. With the Spirit of Christ living inside of us and the Light of the World shining through us, we all play a starring role. Your faith is a gift from God to be shared, and you share it. You, too, have loved others into being the people God wants them to be. Don’t stop doing that! Cling to your hope in the Light of the World, who is longing to be seen and known. It’s all about love; being a faithful disciple of Christ is embodying love and intimacy with Jesus. Like Gail O’Day said, “Love and intimacy with Jesus gets to Easter first!”

We are all, like John, the disciples whom Jesus loves. This is our story, and for all the ages and generations! It never gets old! Each of us has a testimony to share, a vision God has given us.  A future filled with hope.

May we all be stirred to go and tell others, like Mary, “I have seen the Lord.”

Let us pray.

God of Love, Light of the World, thank you for our new and living hope! Love has conquered sin and death! Nothing can ever again separate us from your love revealed in Jesus Christ. Help us to live each day as people walking in the Light, not fearing the darkness or worrying about the future that you hold in your loving hands. Build up our faith and help us to be a witness as strong as Mary in the gospel of John. Help us to see you and be the people you want us to be. Going out to tell the world, “I have seen the Lord.” In the name of our Risen Savior we pray. Amen.

[1] “Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols on Uhura’s Radical Impact,” Smithsonian channel, 6years ago at

[2] Star Trek: Picard on Wikipedia at


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 Minnie, a toy poodle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Consider the Birds

Pastor Karen shares thoughts on faith, scripture, and God's love and grace revealed through backyard wildlife.

Practical Resources for Churches

Everyone has a calling. Ours is helping you.

F.O.R. Jesus

Fill up. Overflow. Run over.

Becoming HIS Tapestry

Christian Lifestyle Blogger

Whatever Happens,Rejoice.

The Joy of the Lord is our Strength

Stushie Art

Church bulletin covers and other art by artist Stushie. Unique crayon and digital worship art

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging News

The latest news on and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: