|Sermon by: The Rev. R. Casey Shobe
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
April 16, 2017
The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
My wife, Melody, collects antique needlework, and there is one from the 19th century that is framed and hung in our living room, which I’ve always loved. It says,
“Time began in a garden
All this beauty is of God
I love to watch the miracle when blossoms bud and grow
I am nearer to God in my garden than anywhere else I know”
I love that…“Time began in a garden.” That’s what Genesis tells us, that God created a garden paradise at the beginning of the world, and placed birds and bugs and people in it. It’s a mythical story about our origins, but even as metaphor the story is still profoundly true. Time began in a garden, when God started the story of the world and began the growing and thriving of all living things.
We didn’t stay in that garden for very long. It doesn’t take a story about a tree and a wily serpent and a scandalous piece of fruit to know that people didn’t stay in that garden. Human beings are beautiful and full of possibility and goodness, but we sure are willful, too, and we’ve gotten pretty good at willing the wrong things as often as the right. We look around the garden and we decide that isn’t big enough or green enough exciting enough, and so we peek over the fence. Or else, instead of tilling and keeping the garden as stewards, as God commanded, we dig it up and pave it. Yes, time began in a garden alright, but we haven’t always remembered that’s where we’re supposed to be, that it’s where God meant for us to dwell with him forever.
And so, God made a new garden, one quite different from the first, and started time all over again. God saw that we didn’t know what to do with the first one, or what to make of God himself, or even how to live, and so God made a new garden, and sent a very particular gardener to meet us there. That’s what we are here today to remember, a holy garden of God outside the walls of Jerusalem, and what happened there one fateful Sunday morning when time began again. That was when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus, presumably to care for his broken and lifeless body and see that it was properly laid to rest. The body wasn’t there, so Mary rushed to get the disciples and ask for their help, and while they were running around trying to figure out what happened and what to do, Mary met a man she thought was the gardener. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought it was a strange thing for Mary to assume this man was a gardener, given all the events and circumstances, but I suppose dead people not being where you put them can do funny things to your brain, and besides, her mistake points us back to where we are: in a garden, on the first day of the week. And that supposed gardener is none other the one she was looking for, who happens to be the one who was with the Father when time began and all things came into being, and here he is again, on the first day of week, very much alive once more and standing in the midst of a garden.
Yes, like the antique needlepoint says, time began in a garden, only the time that began in this garden was of a new age – a new age with a new creation with new rules. The things that drove us out of the first garden, the things that corrupted and confused and constricted us from living there with God the way God hoped, those things have been dealt with by the one we meet in the second garden. Sin has lost. Death has lost. They are swept away, along with that big stone that tried to hold Jesus in. The risen Jesus is like God’s great “no” to all our efforts to get rid of him and put ourselves in God’s place. And he is God’s great “yes” to love, that no matter what may come, what may happen, what may become of our lives, like Mary Magdalene, we can always find our way back to the garden and realize that the Lord of Life is there. He is there, waiting for us, and he can and will always bring new life from out of what seems like nothingness.
Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite preachers and writers, once described resurrection as meaning “that the worst thing is never the last thing.” That’s why we come here on Easter, isn’t it? Not to welcome spring or launch butterflies. Not for pretty flowers or egg hunts or ladies in hats. We come because we crave the reminder that the worst thing is not going to be the last thing. We crave to hear that death will not be the end. We yearn for God to carry us back into the garden of goodness in which we were intended to dwell, the garden where he brought Jesus back to life, and the garden where we are promised that the worst thing, no matter what it may be, will not be the last thing.
We often find ourselves incapable of believing that God could have new life in store for us. We look at our circumstances – our family, our country, our world – and we think quietly to ourselves, “Nothing can change. It’s hopeless.” We succumb to our deepest cynicism and despair, only we call it “being honest with ourselves.” It’s amazing, when you really come to think about it, how easily Christians shrink Jesus down to the size where he can save our souls but doesn’t have any power or ability to change our lives or rescue the world.
But we have a gardener for a Savior. He is the one through whom all things came into being in the beginning, and he is the one through whom all things are possible in the end. No matter where we find ourselves in our lives – how dark, how desperate, how despair-filled – the truth is that even when it looks like a barren and lifeless grave we have a gardener for a Savior. He is there, and that means there will always be new life and new hope and new possibility. That’s why we hear this story every year, because God says we can always go back to the garden, where the gardener of our souls will begin time for us again.
So come to the garden, dear friends, and meet the gardener of your soul. His name is Jesus, and he is alive and waiting. He was there in the beginning and he’ll be there at your end, and he will make all things new, even you.