One of the reoccurring themes we find throughout the bible is a focus on gardens. And since the bible is a collection of sixty-six books that has been written over the course of several centuries, and by many different authors, any reoccurring theme is worth some serious thought and focus.
The bible, in telling us the story of God’s plan of salvation for the world, refers to three gardens, one of which is mentioned in our Gospel reading this morning, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
From the opening of his Gospel, John has already been pointing us way back to the first garden in the bible, the Garden of Eden. You might remember that John begins his gospel with three very important words, “In the beginning.”
The Garden of Eden
These are the same three words that begin the bible. And from there, these three words lead into the creation story. In the story of creation, we read about the beautiful Garden of Eden, a garden that God planted which included trees, rivers, and fruit to eat.
Next, God creates man to take care of the garden and to freely eat the fruit from the garden with the exception of the fruit from one particular tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The garden was given the name “Eden” because the word, “Eden,” literally means, “delight.” So this was a very beautiful, fruit-bearing, and delightful place. The creation story also tells us that God created a woman from the man and together they provided companionship for each other and they took care of God’s creation.
The picture here, from the very beginning of the bible is that God created the world and called it good. It was a world that was filled with beauty, delight, abundance, peace, and harmony. This description of God’s creation of the world and the Garden of Eden tells us a lot about who God is.
First of all, God is the creator, meaning that God is set apart from creation and yet maintains a close relationship with creation.
Secondly, God’s desire is for creation to be filled with beauty and harmony. This was the original intention of God’s creation.
And thirdly, God entrusts us with caring for creation.
Not too long after creation, the Book of Genesis tells us that we disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil and because of this disobedience, the ground was cursed and for the first time, we hear about thorns and thistles growing in God’s beautiful garden.
The story of this first garden is a story that reminds us that even though we can see glimpses of God’s beauty and presence in creation, it is also a world that is filled with sin and brokenness. We don’t have to look too far, to see the thorns and thistles that are still part of God’s good creation. Low wages, high poverty rates, war, disease, drug addictions, hate groups, hopelessness, pollution, violence, and unfortunately, we can easily add more to this list.
Throughout the Old Testament, the people of Israel knew about this first garden and God’s original design for creation. They knew that even though God had chosen them to be a people who would care for creation, that in some ways, they were also part of the problem because of their sin and disobedience. But they also maintained hope that one day God would make everything thing new again.
Listen to the prophet Isaiah who points the people of Israel to the future hope when those thorns and thistles will be totally removed. Isaiah says, “For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
So when the gospel writer, John, begins to tell us about Jesus, he has us think back to this first garden. The first garden which represents how God created the world and called it good. The first garden, which soon after God created it, became filled with thorns and thistles because of humanity’s sin. The first garden, which was awaiting to be redeemed and renewed by a special act of God’s grace when the thorns and thistles of this world would finally be uprooted.
Once we know about this 1st garden, John is then able to tell us about a 2nd garden which is the location of the Easter story found in our Gospel reading this morning. And this 2nd garden is known as the Garden Tomb. Mary Magdalene comes to visit the tomb of Jesus. The tomb is in a garden.
The Garden Tomb
If you go to the Holy Land today, you can visit what is called “The Garden Tomb” just outside of Jerusalem which is one of two places that Christians believe Jesus’ was laid to rest after his crucifixion. It’s a beautiful place with many flowers and you can even go into the tomb. And even though this might not be the actual garden tomb of Jesus, scholars are in general agreement that it at least has the look and feel of what the garden tomb of Jesus would have been like.
When Mary notices that the tomb is empty, she immediately goes to tell Peter and another disciple. After they both come to the tomb and find that it is empty, they return to their homes but Mary stays in the garden.
With tears in her face and still not knowing who might have taken Jesus’ body, she enters the tomb and she sees two angels who ask her why she is weeping. Mary then turns around and she sees Jesus, only she doesn’t recognize him right away since he was now in his resurrected body.
Like the angels, Jesus asks Mary why she is weeping. And notice what the gospel writer, John, says next. This is a very importan detail. “Supposing him to be the gardener.”
Mary thought that Jesus was a gardener because after all this was a garden tomb. In a way, Mary was right. Jesus is a gardener, because it would be by his death and resurrection that the thorns and the thistles of God’s good creation would finally be removed forever.
This is the good news of Easter.
- Jesus, the gardener, is the Lord and Savior of the world.
- Jesus, the gardener, is the one to whom the prophet Isaiah was pointing.
- Jesus, the gardener, was God himself, who came so that we might have new life.
- Jesus, the gardener is the new Adam because of his perfect obedience and death on the cross.
- Jesus, the gardener, the one who reversed the curse on creation thanks to the empty tomb.
- Jesus, the gardener, who couldn’t be contained behind a large stone of a cold tomb.
- Jesus, the gardener, the one who is more than able to help us overcome the thorns and thistles of life.
- Jesus, the gardener, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
The good news of our faith is that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the first garden, God’s good creation, has been redeemed and reclaimed by God in the 2nd garden, the Garden Tomb.
And here’s the really good news. You and I are part of that first garden, for we were created in the image of God. And because of Easter, we are invited to receive the saving and healing love of Jesus Christ which can remove the thorns and thistles in our lives so that we can be the people God has called us to be, a people who have been rescued and redeemed from the power of sin and death.
An Anglican Church Bishop led a group of lay people in his diocese to the Holy Land to visit the sites of Jesus. During their trip, they visited the place which is believed to be where Jesus was crucified. And then they visited the Garden Tomb. All during the trip, the Bishop carefully explained the meaning of each of these sites.
There was an older man on the trip who wasn’t a member of the parish and who only attended church on rare occasions. He lived in the area that the parish was located and joined the group for the trip because he had always wanted to visit the Holy Land. The Bishop could tell that this man was deeply moved as they retraced the footsteps of Jesus.
After they had visited the place where Jesus was crucified and the Garden tomb, this man turned to the Bishop for some reassurance and asked him, “Are you saying that Jesus really lived and that you believe he actually taught and healed people as you said.” “That’s right,” the Bishop said. “Jesus was a real person who lived, taught, and healed people during the 1st century.”
The older man continued his questioning, “And he really died on a cross and then came out of the tomb alive and he’s alive today?” Again, the Bishop responded, “Yes, that’s right. Jesus really died on a cross and rose again, and is alive today.”
That’s all this man needed to hear. He said, “I want to become one of his followers, then.” So right there, during their trip to the Holy Land, this older man accepted Jesus Christ, was baptized, and from that day on, became a follower of Jesus.
It’s here at this second garden, the Garden Tomb, that John invites us to join Mary in hearing Jesus call our name so that we can know that Jesus truly is the one who has defeated sin and death and offers to us new life in God’s new creation.
The New Jerusalem Garden
And all of this leads us to the third garden that we find in the Bible. The New Jerusalem Garden. If the first garden, the Garden of Eden is the story of God’s good creation which has become broken through our disobedience, and if the second garden is the garden of the empty tomb where Jesus defeated sin and death through his death and resurrection, the third garden is that time in the future when heaven and earth will come together and all of creation will be renewed forever.
Notice that after Mary recognizes who Jesus is, she tries to embrace him, but Jesus doesn’t allow her to do so, because he had not yet ascended to be with his heavenly Father. Now, why would Jesus not allow Mary, who has just discovered that Jesus is alive, to embrace him? I think if we keep in mind that there are three gardens of which the bible speaks, Jesus’ response to Mary in these verses might make a little more sense.
Jesus’ resurrection is the launching of God’s long awaited new creation. It’s a launching of new life and hope. It’s an advance sign of the new life that awaits God’s people in the future. There are still thistles and thorns in creation that need to be removed even after the victory of Easter’s empty tomb. And Jesus expects us, you and me, to be his gardeners and to sow seeds of hope in caring for all of God’s people and all of God’s creation.
What does Jesus tell Mary right after he tells her to not cling to him? He tells her to go and share the good news of his resurrection with the other disciples. And this is why Mary is known as the apostle to the apostles. Because she went and did just as Jesus had told her.
And this is just a brief side note but it’s worth mentioning. Jesus shows us that if you need something done, ask a woman to do it.
By telling Mary to not cling to him, but to instead begin sharing the good news of the resurrection, Jesus is reminding us that there are more than two gardens. There’s the Garden of Eden that God created and called good but became infected with thorns and thistles through our sins and disobedience.
Then, there’s the Garden Tomb in which Jesus has inaugurated new creation thanks to his death and resurrection. But all of this still points us to the third garden in the bible. To find this garden, we go to the very end of the bible, the Book of Revelation. In the last chapter of the bible, we get a glimpse of that time in the future when Jesus will reappear and will set up his rule over all of creation once and for all.
We are told that this third garden will have a tree of life with all kinds of fruit and a river will run through it reminding us of the first garden before the thorns and thistles. In this third garden, there will be no more crying, no more mourning, no more tears, and no more death.
From beginning to end, the bible is a story of three gardens. The Garden of Eden, the Garden Tomb, and the Garden of the New Jerusalem.
Like he did for Mary, Jesus calls each one of us, to leave this Garden Tomb, and go into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called to be agents of God’s healing love in our community and world. We are the ones Jesus is depending on to serve as his gardeners for a broken and hurting world.
This was never clearer to me than during a late July afternoon back in 2009 as I was standing on my second floor hotel balcony looking down on the city streets of San Lucas Toliman in Guatemala. I was with a mission team of fourteen people from my church who had gone there to work on a water project which would provide clean water to a small community located just outside of the city.
Our team was exhausted from a long day of digging trenches under the hot Guatemalan sun. Someone on my team, had awaken me from my pre-dinner nap and said, “Robert, come to the balcony. You gotta see what Rock is doing!”
Rock was a member of my church who is also a funeral director. From our 2nd floor balcony, he was playing a game with about twenty Guatemalan children who had gathered below. Since he couldn’t speak Spanish and they couldn’t speak English, he had them playing a game in which they had to do exactly what he was doing which were often silly motions and gestures with his face and arms.
They loved it and were laughing the whole time. In just a few minutes, the twenty children turned into thirty children and from my balcony I yelled down to Rock, “Now what are you going to do for all these children?” He shouted back up to me, “I’m going to go down to the store and buy candy to hand out to them.”
And sure enough, that’s what he did. The only problem was, as he was distributing the candy, those thirty children turned into forty children. Rock became their new best friend!
Then, Rock got another idea. He ended up forming a parade and had the children follow him up and down the polluted streets of this impoverished city as he whistled some silly song along the way. By the time the impromptu parade ended, there must have been at least 50 to 60 children who had been following him.
“Rock’s parade,” as we now refer to it, became one of the highlights of our mission trip. By stepping out in faith, Rock wasn’t so much a funeral director, as he was a gardener, who was living out his resurrection faith by tilling the soil of God’s garden and offering the hope and good news of Jesus Christ.
And until Jesus comes again, and we find ourselves in the third and final garden of God’s new creation, may we all do the same.
The Story of Three Gardens
Small Group Questions
Genesis 2:4-17; Revelation 22:1-5; & John 20:1-18
April 16, 2017
The bible is a story about three gardens which includes the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis, the Garden Tomb of Easter in our Gospel reading, and the future New Jerusalem Garden that we find at the end of the Book of Revelation.
Do you like to garden or visit gardens? What kinds of vegetation would you want in your ideal garden?
The bible describes the future hope of all of creation in terms of an incredibly beautiful garden where there is harmony, love, and plenty for all. The Garden of Eden had all of this in the beginning of creation. The Garden Tomb is where God launched new creation to overcome sin and death which infested the first garden. The New Jerusalem Garden is the future garden when heaven and earth will one day come together perfectly, what we would call "heaven."
What are some creative ways that we can share this story of three gardens with our friends, neighbors, co-workers so that they can know of God's love for the world through Jesus Christ?
In his sermon, Pastor Robert made the observation that we are all called to be "gardeners" in sharing God's love and caring for God's creation. Our church offers many opportunities for us to be gardeners through outreach ministries like our "Athens First Saturday" community outreach.
Brainstorm some ways that your small group can do something together as God's gardeners to help till God's creation with love and kindness.