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The Gardener

Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). John 20.11-16.

Everything began in the garden. “Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed” (Genesis 2.8). The man, Adam, was “to work the garden and take care of it” (Genesis 2.15) and starting with Eden, to bring the whole world under his control. Made in the image of God, he was to: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” God’s plan for Adam and his offspring was that he would be the gardener of all creation — tending and caring for the world that God had made, bringing it all into order and harmony through a labour of loving stewardship.

But we all know what happened. The handing over to satan of man’s God-given dominion … the breaking of fellowship with God … the dismissal … the closure of Eden … paradise lost. “Cursed is the ground because of you;” says God to Adam. “Through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you. (Genesis 3.18-19).

And so, heads bowed, shoulders stooped, in shame and misery, we walk out of Genesis 3 with Adam … in Adam … into a fallen world whose prince is now satan — a world “in bondage to decay” that groans for liberation (Romans 8.21-22) and longs for … what? Well, for a second gardener … a second Adam … someone who will himself be at one with God and can make all God’s fallen people at one with him again too … someone who will restore the paradise that is lost … someone who will bring to God’s creation the perfect order and harmony that Adam should have brought.

And as the ages pass, God promises such a one. A gardener will come and through him, says God, “I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together” (Isaiah 41.18-19). No more thorns and thistles then. Not when the gardener comes.

But, look … here he is! In the garden of Joseph of Arimathea … standing by the empty tomb. Through her tears, Mary sees him.

No, you are not mistaken, Mary. He IS the gardener. He is Jesus, yes, but he is also the Gardener. He is the last Adam. He is the one who, by giving himself in death and rising from the tomb, now stands before Mary and the world as the one who will bring God’s new world order into being. And he comes to me … speaks my name … reconciles me to God … breathes into me the breath of his resurrection life … and puts a trowel in my hand. For though I was in Adam, now I am in Christ; and now I am a gardener too.

Am I being fanciful in seeing a reference back to Adam in Mary’s initial identification of Jesus as a gardener? I don’t think so. John’s gospel is full of such very deliberate connections and echoes. And let’s not forget that his whole gospel sets out to be a re-telling of the Genesis story in the light of Christ. “In the beginning …” are the opening words of both Genesis and John.

As I finished writing that last sentence and was about to click “Publish”, I suddenly recalled Tom Wright’s wonderful poem from his Easter Oratorio called “Easter Morning” and I’ve just re-read it. So very, very beautiful, and so very to the point. It’s there for you in Crumbs if you would like to read it too.

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