In 1511, the German artist Albrecht Dürer fashioned a woodcut of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus as depicted in John 20:15. She has come to the garden tomb looking for Christ’s body, instead she finds a very much alive Jesus and she thought he was the gardener.
This phrase is not a throw away line. It is of cosmic significance! Jesus is indeed the gardener of the new creation.
In the book of Genesis, God creates the garden of Eden, and sculpts Adam and Eve out of its soil to tend and care for it. (Genesis 2:15). It is here that God, the cosmic gardener, comes to walk, to enjoy and interact not just with the caretakers but with all creation. (Genesis 3:8) When Adam and Eve sin they are expelled not just from the garden but also away from this beautiful, intimate relationship they once enjoyed with God.
Journey from the Garden of Suffering
Fortunately God did not abandoned creation or those created to look after it. The journey of Holy week is a journey back into the garden of God.
Jesus suffering began in the garden of Gethsemane, a garden where his agony is poured out in drops of blood like sweat, that seep into the earth. His pain is symbolic of the pain and suffering that became a part of Adam and Eve’s lives when they were expelled from the garden of Eden.
Journey Through the Garden of Death
On Good Friday there is another garden. Jesus, the second Adam, dies at Golgotha and John notes: in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden. (John 19:41) The garden is a place of death, and Jesus death like the planting of a seed: Unless a seed is planted in the soil and dies it remains alone, but its death will produce many new seeds, a plentiful harvest of new lives (Jn 12:24).
Journey Into the Garden of Resurrection
Yet here in this garden, as in all gardens, new life emerges, because gardens are places of life and resurrection too. As the gospel of John tells the story, and the artist Durer pictures it, Jesus very fittingly and beautifully appears to Mary Magdalene as the gardener. This is the garden of the resurrection, the new creation garden where the new world of God is revealed in all its glory and everything once more flourishes.
Whereas the Genesis story begins in paradise (a garden) and ends in our present garden world of pain and suffering, the Easter story begins in the garden of pain and suffering and ends in a garden of wholeness and flourishing, a new paradise in which we are once more able to walk intimately with our God and find abundant provision. In this new garden Jesus, the head gardener, once more invites us to be who God created us to be – stewards of all creation, tending this new paradise of wholeness and abundance so that it once more flourishes for all the creatures of the earth to enjoy.
In Isaiah 65 and again in Revelation 21 we see beautiful pictures of this new garden of God. Life and freedom, wholeness and abundance flourish and we look forward in hope to its completion.
The challenge we face is to cooperate with Jesus the gardener in the work of this garden. In many ways God’s new garden is still in its infancy, and like any newly formed garden, needs to be tended in order to flourish. Soil must be fertilized, seeds planted, watered and nurtured. To see it completed we must willingly journey with Jesus from the garden of Gethsemane with its struggle and suffering, through the garden of death to the new life that begins in the garden of the resurrection.
The old Adam and Eve were excluded from the Garden of Eden by a barrier of angels with flaming swords. Jesus the new Adam, ripped apart the barrier with his death and stands ready to welcome us into the new paradise garden. The barrier that separated us from the holy place of intimacy with God and God’s world has been removed. Now together with all God’s people and indeed with all God’s creation we can enter into the intimacy of relationship with God in a restored world of wholeness and abundance. We must continue to till and fertilize the soil, plant seeds of freedom and generosity and wholeness until the full glory of God’s resurrection created world is revealed.