*This is our first Podcast at New Liberty, so I hope everything works well. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if there are any issues with the audio or text below. —Whit
Early 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 around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.
Of all the things that can be said on Easter Sunday morning, I want to say this: that when Mary was at the tomb she mistakes Jesus for ‘the gardener.’ But my question is this: was that really a mistake or was it fitting? Because if we look at how the Biblical story begins and ends, we’ll notice it starts in a garden in Genesis and finishes in a garden in Revelation. What has happened, then, with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is simply the pivot of the story. After things went awry in the garden of Eden, God then turned and began tilling the soil of his people’s broken lives, reaching out to the world by raising up the Hebrew people to become beacons of hope for the world; a people who’s lives were to be an example of what it means to set our sights and hopes on God alone. Then, when Jesus came, the season was right, the soil was ready, and Jesus began to care for the garden, planting the seeds of life that would be left to his followers to care for. Jesus is very much a gardener.
But let’s step away from the general picture and look at Jesus’ work in a more personal way: his sacrifice on the Cross is the weeding of the garden of our hearts, removing the presence of death that chokes and kills what God has planted, while his resurrection is a work of water and sun, giving life and sustenance to all. God’s gardening work is meant to restore his original intention for the way life be lived, the way we were created to function. The transformation that comes through Jesus’ resurrection-work is one that rolls away the stones of sin and unseals the tombs of our hearts so that life can be full and abundant.
God’s redemptive work is a calling back to a relationship that sadly we sometimes miss or fail to utilize. But if we will look to the life of Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith,” we can take on a lifestyle of compassionate and Spirit-filled living. In Jesus’ example, we understand what it means to put the needs of others before our own, realizing that in pouring out our lives for others, we make space in order to be re-filled by God’s ever–pouring love. This is God’s will, that we have our relationship with our Creator restored and enjoy him forever. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5.15, “And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”
The sad news concerning this good news is that often times the world and even the Church fails to exercise the relationship God is offering in Jesus. We blend the lines of Church and society and lose the awesome experience that comes from being the Body of Christ. Christ’s body is the Church—the faithful followers that he has gifted with the Holy Spirit to do God’s redemptive work in the world. Do not mistake me: our job is not to be kooky, holy rollers who try and “get people saved.” Our job is to understand one important thing: that Christ died for us and with the acceptance of such a gift each of us can receive a more abundant life; a life that sees the world through the eyes of God; that notices pain AND responds to it; a life that commits to journeying through life with those who feel abandoned, alone, and kicked to the side. St. James said it best in James 1.27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
You see, we think that Jesus’ resurrection is the only miracle here, but, is it not also a miracle that God has chosen to take imperfect people and use them to change the world? That God would consider the world, which can seem to be a dreadful place at times, as the place where he would cause an unconditional love to be born in human hearts! It seems foolish! Who would do such a thing?! God would! as we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 1.27–30, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption…”
In God’s wisdom, he believed it best for us to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the way we live our lives. But he also believed it best to restore us in the event that we would turn away from a life of blessing. Being a Christian means to live as someone who has said “Yes” to God’s intention and purpose for his creation. Being a Christian has nothing to do with what you’re not supposed to do. Rather, it has everything to do with taking the challenge to say, “Yes! I want to experience a life-changing love and relationship with God; I want to live a life that the world cannot offer; I want to see things in a way I never could have alone; I want to know the One who knitted me in my mother’s womb and has plans to give me hope and a future.” That challenge is before you today; it’s before you everyday because God has come in Jesus Christ to open up the garden again and announce, “Come home, child.”
Therefore Easter Sunday is a call to action! a call to WAKE-UP! to take up the plow and finish the work that was begun in Jesus the Gardener. As Paul says in Ephesians 5.14, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” What awaits us as children of God should not be missed. We are a people forgiven of our sins, empowered to overcome temptation, and strengthened for every good work under Heaven. The Church can be the banner carriers for every need the world has. We are the people of God, sent to alleviate the suffering of the world through the power of a resurrected Lord.
But will we carry that banner? Will be associated with Jesus? Will we use the power at our disposal in ways that do not serve ourselves but rather serve God’s purposes? And those purposes are to have the goodness of God poured out, spilled out—on—and—into the lives of those around us. Are you hurting today? Are you in need of forgiveness? Let Jesus’ work on the cross bury your sins and your failures. Let his resurrection give you life and life abundantly!!! Be people of Easter! People of Resurrection! People of God! To God be the glory forever! AMEN!