15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed[b] by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become[c] my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants[d] any longer, because the servant[e] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said 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 am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.‘” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Two of my all-time favorite actors are Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet, and a few years ago a film came out entitled A Little Chaos and it tells of a woman gardener who is working on King Louis XIV Versailles. And Kate Winslet plays the gardener and Alan Rickman is the King. And both of them are grieving. Kate’s character has lost her husband and daughter and the King’s wife just died. And he decides to spend sometime away in a garden, and he sends everyone away. And he is in the garden by himself with his jacket and wig off. And then Kate Winslet happens into the garden and mistakes him as another gardener. And asks for his help. And they talk and carry plants and just enjoy each other’s humanity. Being present with each other in the moment. I mean it makes sense that she didn’t recognize him at first; one wouldn’t expect to find the king in a garden. And yet that’s where he is. Not in a crown or a robe or basking in golden light or being serenaded by a thousand angels but in a garden. Mistaken for a gardener.
There are many artistic representations of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Throughout time, but especially during the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries several artists started depicting Jesus as a Gardener including carrying gardening tools like shovels or hoes, and sometimes even the clothing he was depicted in would be shabby gardener clothing, including with a hat.
In Dr. Jo-Anna A. Brant’s commentary on John’s Gospel, she theorizes that one possible explanation for Mary mistaking Jesus for the Gardener, is that because since Jesus’ burial clothes were left in the tomb, perhaps he had gone so far to barrow the Gardener’s cloths. But most theologians agree that the reason she mistakes him as the gardener is because he doesn’t come with a chorus of angels, and he doesn’t seem to be emitting this blinding light. He is changed by the resurrection, the Gospels tell us that he still bares the scars to this day. But he comes as a gardener because he still has work to do. And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he returns to someone who has some dirt under their nails, dirty of their knees…after all look how he choose to enter into the world. Born among manure and outcasts. And then shortly after his birth they had to flee to another country for their safety. With many refugees being migrant workers working in our time as well. If we are honest, our fruit and veggies may have been touched by a refugee who also spells their name Jesus, but pronounces it, (Hay-Sus).
I know many of us love to garden. We have our 15 organic fruit trees here on our Church property as we work to provide for our neighbors in need. As many of you know I love to garden. I like to spend time in prayer while gardening. I like to hear the rushing of a hose, or the taste of a home grown imperfectly shaped organic carrot. For my last few birthdays, I have asked for things, like a worm farm, and a composting bin, and then a second worm farm. And the thing about worm farms is that you have to order the worms separately. And so once the order is placed, I am always asking my husbands, “Are my worms here yet? We can’t just let the package sit there! They could die! As soon as you see them let me know.” And of course, he always as to respond by quoting Dumb ‘N Dumber, “We’ve Got Worms!” and then adding, “My wife and her worms!” We’re a very classy family.
But the truth is, gardens have manure, and worms, and essentially worm poop. Gardeners have dirt on their hands. Often reek of sweat and manure. It’s not an overly glamorous job. It’s humble and perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that it is in the garden that we first meet the resurrected Lord. It’s in the garden that Mary mistakes him as the gardener.
I mean this is the same Jesus who often would retreat to nature to pray and regain strength, as well as the one who at the beginning of time as we know it- created the earth and placed humanity in the garden. And somehow by the grace of G-d it becomes nourishment and beauty. G-d takes our mess, or scraps, our sin and transforms it into something that brings new life. And what is this manure or crud that I am talking about? It’s us, and our mess. It’s what we did to Jesus on the cross.
So often we like to say, “We’ll that’s what G-d’s wrath mandated,” but was it really? This idea that the torture of the crucifixion was the work of a Loving G-d and Father? Wouldn’t that just be “Divine Child Abuse” If it is the wrath of an angry G-d being scapegoated on an innocent child? When Jesus is describing his Father in Luke 11, he says, “I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”
He makes it clear, that we are the ones who don’t know how to fulfill other’s needs, we are the ones who at times do evil things. In Proverbs of Ashes : Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us, by Rita Nakashima Brock (Author), Rebecca Ann Parker (Author) they write,
“Abelard in his Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans question it. ‘Who will
forgive God for the sin of killing his own child?’ he asked. ‘How cruel and wicked it seems that anyone should demand the blood of an innocent person as the price for anything, or that it should in any way please him that an innocent man should be slain—still less that G-d should consider the death of his son so agreeable that by it he should be reconciled to the whole world!’…
“Do we really believe that God is appeased by cruelty, and wants
nothing more than our obedience?…“If God is imagined as a fatherly torturer, earthly parents are also justified, perhaps even required to teach through violence. Children are instructed to understand their submission to pain as a form of love. Behind closed doors, in our own community, spouses and children
are batter by abusers who justify their actions a necessary, loving discipline. ‘I only hit her because I love her.’ ‘I’m doing this for your own good.’ The child or the spouse who believes that obedience is what God wants may put up with physical or sexual abuse in an effort to be a good Christian.”
“Some will say that absolute obedience to God doesn’t carry danger because God is good and does not ask us to be violent. But this defense requires us to be certain that we are always right in understanding what God asks of us. We are fallible. The Bible, some argue, provide an infallible revelation of the will of God. But the Bible is a complex, multi-voiced document…We have
to accept responsibility for our interpretations.”
I believe the torture of the crucifixion is not what G-d wants for anyone, but it is an example of G-d’s faithfulness to us. That even though we do awful c-r-a-p, G-d remains faithful and can take even those situations and transform them.
This is why when Jesus was being crucified he asks G-d to forgive them, because, “They know not what they are doing.” He doesn’t say, “Gee Dad looks like your plan is going super well. I mean it really hurts, but whatever…”
No Jesus takes all of our manure, and crud and refuses to let that be the end. Instead, he turns it into a garden. He refuses to give up and he then meets us in that garden. He doesn’t give us. No matter how many weeds have taken root in our lives, or how much manure we’ve produced. G-d is ready and waiting for us in the garden, even if we don’t recognize him at first. But to admit that Jesus is our gardener is not always easy, it’s humbling, and requires trust, and is uncomfortable. When we invite G-d to pull weeds from our lives, when we spend time in prayer with living water, when we invite G-d to transform the poop of our lives into something worth of G-d’s kingdom. It can be hard. But it’s worth it. The great mystic Julian of Norwich wrote –
‘I watched, wondering what kind of work it might be
that the servant would do. Then I understood the he (the Christ) would do the greatest work and hardest toil that is. He would be a gardener, digging and ditching,
straining and sweating, and turning over the earth, and seeking the depths,
and watering the plants on time. And in this he would continue his labour
and make sweet streams to run, and noble and plenteous fruits to spring, which he would bring before the lord and serve him therewith to his delight.’
` You know what I think might be one of the best forms of evangelism and outreach today? Just admitting that sometimes we smell like manure, we don’t have it all together, that we are completely dependent on our gardener to call us by name and be at work in our lives. Rev. Francis Chan once stated the following in a sermon, “Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly.”
Natalie is going to share a song with us, and while we listen I would like each of us to reflect on what in our life needs to be pruned or weeded, how might we surrender to Jesus as he meets us in the Garden. So that we might bare good fruit for him, so that we might feed those in need spiritually and physically. How we might be part of returning Eden to earth.
The last image in the power point: Joel Briggs (American, 1990–), The Gardener, 2021. Oil on canvas, 20 × 24 in. Private collection.
The artist says, “I need a Lord and Savior who is redeeming me in my humanness. Who is bringing new order to the old chaos, new life to the old, worn-out wastelands. Christ is not erasing the human story. His coup de grâce against the curse upon humanity is not the removal of my humanity. His final triumph is undying humanity—his physical resurrection, in which human thriving is defined. . . . The seemingly fragile and infantile promise of the inheritance of all creation is being held in the firm grasp of he who is both gardener and ‘first of the fruit’ of his garden.” Follow Joel Briggs @joelbriggspaints. (https://artandtheology.org/2016/04/05/she-mistook-him-for-the-gardener/