Sunday, April 15, 2007

Easter 2: The Constant Gardner

Colossians 1: 3-12
John 20: 1-31

I’ve always enjoyed this little tidbit about the resurrection story. Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus there at that tomb, she mistakes him for the gardener. I like the idea of the place where Jesus is buried having a gardener whom Mary would have mistaken Jesus for. But there it is, in the text. John doesn’t mention this to simply describe what happened there at the tomb, either.
Her mistake has meaning. None of thes seemingly trivial descriptions in the gospels is simply a trivial description. And to get to the root of this particular instance, we can use a Bible study method called the “Principle of first mention.” When you come across phrases that seem superfluous in the Bible, it is helpful to go to back in the Bible to see if that same word is used elsewhere.
This helps us see the writer’s intentions a little more, and if many references go back to a particular book in the Bible, we begin to see a pattern emerge that help us paint a picture of Jesus according to how that gospel writer may have seen him. Matthew, for instance, draws parallel after parallel to the Moses story in Exodus, because he wants us to see Jesus as the new Moses. Matthew is the only gospel writer who claims that Jesus and his family escaped to Egypt. This is probably because Matthew wants us to have Jesus literally coming out of Egypt like Moses did so we can see how Jesus leads us out of the slavery to sin and death much like Moses led his people to freedom and out of slavery as well.
John, on the other hand, makes numerous references to the Genesis story of creation. His gospel begins, “In the Beginning,” just as Genesis begins with “in the beginning.” He is painting his picture of Jesus and the good news using the colors found in the palate of Genesis. For what it’s worth, and for whatever reason, I see those colors as Green and Blues when thinking about Genesis and John and I see reds and golds when thinking about Exodus and Matthew. These aren’t the only instances of this kind of thing, but it gives us an idea of what is meant by the “principle of first mention.”
First mention of love is in John 3:16. First mention in the Bible is in Gen 22, God tells Abraham to take Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice. John wants us to draw a parallel in our mind between the love God the father giving the world Jesus to the love of Abraham and his willingness to give his own son, whom he loved, as a sacrifice for God. John reverses the Genesis story—instead of God demanding a son for sacrifice, he gives his one and only son as a sacrifice.
In our resurrection story, Jesus is raised in a garden on the “first day of the week,” and is mistaken by Mary as a “gardener.” Clearly, John wants us to be thinking “garden.” Why? Genesis 2 is the first mention in the bible of a garden. It is the garden of Eden, where humans choose to live outside the way that God created them to live and death enters the picture and paradise is lost.
John wants us to see Jesus as the “new Adam” and the world with the risen Christ as a “new creation.” That’s why Jesus is raised on the “First day of the week.” It mirrors God’s creation story, which obviously started on the first day of the week! In fact, the “second Adam” is how Paul refers to Jesus in Romans and Corinthians. There is a new Adam on the scene. What happened in the first Garden, the curse of death, is now being conquered through Jesus. Jesus is renewing God’s plans for the world.
IF you go to Genesis, we see that the things God makes are Good. What does God do with God’s good creation? He endows them with the ability to produce plants and trees and everything else. God empowers creation to make more.
Back to John for a moment, what does Jesus do when he comes through the locked doors and meets the disciples face to face after the resurrection? He Breathes on them. This points to Genesis story. Here Jesus is endowing the disciples with the ability to make more! God’s Spirit hovers over the waters in Genesis, God’s breath hovers over the waters and gives creative potential. And in the story of the resurrection, God’s Spirit once again is blown directly into the disciples, giving them the ability to progress and grow and become who God intends them to be. God gives the same gift of breath in the garden story in Genesis, when he breathes into the nostrils of the human figure that he had fashioned, and the text tells us, “he became a living being.”
God doesn’t want everything the way it was, God’s vision grows and moves and progresses. You can see this in the first couple and the last couple chapters of the Bible. In the first chapters, we see God’s ideal as this peaceful, idyllic garden. IN the last couple chapters of the Bible, in the book of revelation, we see what descending from heaven to Earth? A city! And just in case we miss it, just in case we think John is speaking about something else entirely, what do we see there in the midst of the city? The tree of everlasting life! Yes, that same tree that God kicks Adam and Eve out of the original garden so that they don’t eat from it.
Just in case you’re confused, because our popular imagery of the Garden of Eden is that there is one tree that we eat from and therefore are kicked out of paradise, the story tells us that there are two trees, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which we eat from and disrupt God’s covenant, and then there’s the Tree of Everlasting Life, which God worries that Adam and Eve will eat from after having the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and will then become divine. See Genesis 3:22.
But the book of Revelation tells us that the tree of life is given for the healing of the nations, and that we are given the right to eat from the tree of life as those who have come to know the gardener. Yes, the gardener, whom Mary goes to the tomb and “mistakes” Jesus for. Indeed, Jesus is the gardener. He is the gardener who lovingly tends the Tree of Life, ensuring that tree is healthy and growing, nourished and watered. He is the gardener who ensures that the fruit of this tree is ripening in our lives! He is offering the fruit of the tree through his very words and through his words alive in the lives of his followers. It is Paul who talked about “bearing fruit” in our lives. Paul speaks about the good news “growing” in and through the disciples in Collosae. He describes his hope that they continue “bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God.”
So, what Jesus is doing by “breathing on his disciples,” is sharing his Spirit with them, he’s the gardener nourishing the tree of life that brings forth fruit in the lives of the disciples who will share his message of hope and redemption and life.
The peace that he shares with his disciples is the “first fruits” of what is to come. Through that peace shared with his disciples, he intends that “creation” to grow and change and take on a life of its own and eventually be the hope for peace over the whole world. Twice he says, “peace unto you” to the disciples. It’s like he’s giving them a second helping. It is like many of us who returned to the Easter banquet buffet for another go round. He’s loading the disciples full of creative potential just like God creates the earth in the Genesis story and then loads it with potential, saying, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”
God creates by endowing creation with potential to create. God sings, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation and animals, let the seas bring forth swimming things and birds.” After the earth and sea has brought forth these things, he rejoices in their goodness and then commands them to be fruitful and multiply. The living things should create as well. Jesus is making new creations, and is giving them peace so that they will multiply it in the world. He’s giving them the first fruits of the tree of life, so that they might bear fruit in their own lives.
This is also why Jesus does all he can to help the disciples have confidence in the truth and reality of the new creating creations they are. He comes back for Thomas, who had missed the first appearance, and offers his hands and side for Thomas to touch and believe.
We oftentimes think of this as a story about how Thomas’ faith wasn’t good enough because he needed physical evidence, but what I hear the story saying is that Christ meets us where we are and gives us reason to believe. What is important is the fruit, and Jesus wants Thomas to be a branch of his vine as well. He wants Thomas to multiply peace and life and redemption. So, he comes to Thomas and gives him what he needs to bear that fruit.
Thomas falls to his knees and says “My Lord and my God.” This is the first time in the Gospels where Jesus is addressed as the Divinity. And it also happens to be the same address that those living in the Roman world were expected to give to the Caesar. This proclamation of Thomas’ would have been heard as a bold political statement in the first century.
It shows us that the peace that Christ gives us is not intended to be a peace that we may tend to picture as simply the “absence of conflict.” Peace, or Shalom in Hebrew involves unfolding grace. Peace is not neutral, it is positive. It overcomes violence instead of simply waiting until violence dies down. It is creative, it is active. Peace, in the Roman times and in ours, does not wait on the powers and principalities. It boldly proclaims the truth in the face of the liars who masquerade as “My Lord and My God.”
I’m getting an HBO trial right now, so I’ve been recording several movies on our DVR that we’ll be able to watch when we get the time. One of the movies that I recorded is called, “The Constant Gardner.” I haven’t watched it yet, but the title reminds me of whom Jesus is in this passage and in the life of faith. Christ, risen from the dead, is now the constant gardener, endlessly tending the tree of life and the nourishing our lives so that we might bear fruit for the glory of God. Jesus Christ breathes on us with the same commissioning Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed on those original disciples in that locked room. Christ is alive and risen, nurturing our faith, presenting himself to us so that we might believe.

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