Here is the sermon from Easter morning.
Here is a transcription of the sermon:
Gardens are interesting and fascinating places. Lots can happen in a garden.
In the musical Hamilton that is all the rage this year, they sing about “the room where it happens.” If the author of the Gospel of John wrote a musical, one song would have to be, “The Garden where it happens,” because the Gospel of John begins at the very beginning, talking about a Garden.
As we heard at Christmas, “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 what everyone who first heard that would have immediately thought of was the story in Genesis, of the Creation, when God crafts all that is, and crafts light and darkness and soil and water into creation, and into the garden of Eden. Life abundant, clear rivers, greenery, animals– what the world looked like when it was totally according to God’s blueprint, with God’s first human creations, Adam and Eve, to tend it—flourishing life, everywhere.
Now, I am not the best gardener. Tending a garden requires patience. It isn’t for those of us who like immediately visible results. People who like to be sure of how things are going all along, and that they really are following the plan, those of us who have trouble trusting that there is a longer-range process set in motion that we need to wait for, do not make the best gardeners. You know how when you have kids, or you’re a teacher, you start some seeds in a cup or in a small pot to show children how growing a plant works? When I was a kid, I’d be the one who would up-end the cup and dump out the soil after just a few days, to see if anything was actually growing yet. Newly planted seeds really don’t like it when you do that, and things don’t tend to grow well when you do that.
How-ever you understand the story of the Garden of Eden–of Adam and Eve, the account of what happened with humanity that got us off track–at its heart, it involved a lack of trust and a lack of patience, and grabbing at something prematurely. Like typical humans, they and we want to get right to the good stuff, to know all there is to know about everything right away, and to short-circuit the process of tending the garden. We want to grab for our own use what is set aside for another. And just as in the garden of Eden, that doesn’t usually work out so well.
So the story of the Gospel John starts in the very first chapter with that very first garden, by allusion.
And then there is another garden in our story–we were just in it on Friday. It is the garden where Jesus went after the Last Supper, the garden of Gethsemane.
It was a place where he and his disciples often went to pray. On that last night, according to some of the Gospels, Jesus prayed for the strength to do what needed to be done even though he didn’t want to go through with it, even though he, like any human being, was scared. And then his friends fell asleep. And it was in this garden where Jesus, in prayer, was able to be resolute and continue through. And was in that garden where Jesus’s friend and comrade Judas betrayed him.
We have all been in gardens like this one:
Places where it looks like all we hope for is coming crashing down around us;
when our plans seem to be failing;
when we feel at the mercy of bigger systems of powers and politics than we can control;
when our loved ones don’t understand, don’t support us, or are so disappointed in us that they maybe even undermine us;
when we are alone.
And when we are in those gardens, at night, we must decide to keep on walking forwards, even though, in the darkness, we don’t see any way out.
That is what Jesus did in that garden, and it led him to the cross, and suffering, and to death, and to his lifeless body being taken down from the cross. As the Gospel of John recounts the story, “now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in that garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid, and so they laid Jesus there.”
So, this morning, we come to that Garden, the Garden where it happens.
Mary Magdalen sees the opened tomb and runs to get two of the closest disciples. They come, take a look, reach a quick partial understanding, and then go home to keep it to themselves.
That’s typical in the Gospel of John: oftentimes when Jesus does something, the first person to try to describe it, to talk about it, gets it wrong or only partially right. The truth and healing and new life that Jesus brings isn’t something that can be grasped and caught right away.
But Mary Magdalen, unlike the two men who think they know what’s going on and run home– Mary Magdalen sticks around (as the women in John’s Gospel usually do), to wrestle longer and harder with her feelings and the situation.
Suddenly she sees a man there. “Are you the gardener?”
No. Well, no, not in the sense of the hired man responsible for tending that particular cemetery.
Yes, because when he calls her by name, she realizes that this is Jesus, the Lord, the one who brings new life out of death, himself full of new life where she KNEW there had been nothing but death.
The one standing in front of her is the one who created that very first Garden,
and who wills its continuance,
and wills it be re-created and restored,
and set back to rights,
and who has done so,
that very morning,
in that very garden.
So yes, this is Jesus her Lord and teacher, but also the Gardener of all creation.
But our story doesn’t end there, with Jesus and Mary Magdalen. Jesus says 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’m ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “
Mary Magdalen goes as commanded, and announces to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” and she tells them that he had said those things to her.
Just as that original garden in Genesis was the epicenter from which all creation and civilization spread, this garden that we hear about this morning is the epicenter from which resurrection and new creation spreads.
Mary Magdalen on that first Easter becomes the Apostle to the Apostles, because she goes and announces to the other apostles, “I have seen the Lord!”
She tells her story of resurrection to others, and then they are able to experience it for themselves. And then they tell others, and they tell others, and so on. Until we get to the story we hear from Acts in which the whole community is ready to hear.
Gardens. A lot can happen in a garden.
You know, we have some gardens here at Good Shepherd.
Years ago someone took a second look at the few feet of land in between our parish hall and the sidewalk. The kind of unused space that’s on every property, the sort of space where you maybe put a bit of ground cover down and then you don’t think much more about it.
But this person was a gardener, and where others just saw simple dirt, he saw potential for generosity and life. And so the Good Shepherd community gardens were created.
We have approximately 20 raised beds that stretch across the back of the parish house and around the corner of our lot. We rent them out every year for a very nominal sum to people in the neighborhood. We had garden sign-ups just a few weeks ago—and almost all of them were spoken for—we have maybe just one left. They’re in high demand.
The gardens are a partnership between the parish and the University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners. We gave out seeds donated by URI. And so now folks are starting to tend and till their plots for this season. By the end of the summer we will once again have an abundance of vegetables and flowers growing and feeding and beautifying multiple families and households.
The URI Master Gardeners are stepping up their involvement this year because they have more volunteers and even have some interns, and so they’re going to have workshops on gardening and a demonstration garden.
As I was praying and mulling over all this garden imagery, it came to me that a demonstration garden is a pretty good metaphor for the Church. We are a demonstration garden.
A demonstration garden is when you plant some plants to show other people who aren’t as skilled at that particular kind of gardening how it works. What it looks like, what techniques to use, to give them a tangible vision of what it can be, if they’re patient and hard-working and take good care of their gardens. And the URI gardeners are going to be there to answer questions and reassure people: “No, really– you can do it this way–or maybe that way. Maybe add more water, or don’t water as much. Here you need to fertilize, or don’t fertilize as much—tips about what it will take for that garden to flourish. They will be sharing their wisdom with those who don’t have quite as much experience yet, telling their stories gardens they’ve had that have done well and about what to watch out for and what to do right.
That is what the Church is. We are a demonstration garden for God. Each of us is a plant, or a planter, at some different stage of gardening. Some of us are very mature and flourishing, some of us are very experienced gardeners, we have lots of beauty and wisdom to share with other people.
Others of us are perhaps seedlings that are planted deep down, and we’re not quite sure if sunlight can really get down there all, or water, or anything. Or we’re novice gardeners or gardeners who have been away from it for a while. And we look at our plot of soil and think “Nothing good can come from this.”
But when someone else comes alongside us and says, “Yes, you’re doing it right, just take a deep breath, new life will come—it will just take a month or two–it will happen. This is what you need to do. I’ll be with you, I’ll help you”—then our gardens flourish.
That is what the church is: each of us coming alongside at different stages of our faith, some of us in very dark places and some of us in very light places. Some of us able to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord!” and share our stories. And all of us being able to come together and grow together, and be a place that in turn feeds others, and is a sign to others of God’s life and abundance—
Of what God wants for God’s creation,
of what God wants God’s creation to be like—
not like the darkness that we sometimes see in the world,
but like a place filled with mutual care and love and support.
A place of great diversity, filled with all different sorts of gardeners and all different sorts of plants in the garden,
all growing together to restore God’s creation to the abundance it had in the very beginning.
The place In which Christ, in that Garden that we heard about in today’s Gospel, gives us the power to bring new life to each of our garden plots.