by Tom Sims
“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.” – John 19:41 (NIV)
It was early in the morning, very early indeed. There was no alarm to awaken them. They dutifully arose and still asleep, walked silently to the place they had no desire to be to do the thing they had no desire to do.
It was a lovely, lonely garden, tucked away, with nothing much in bloom –
It was a cave hewn away from a hill, a hole in a rock, a room of gloom and doom.
Every fragrance from a flower was tucked into a jar of glass,
Collected, condensed, and compacted, waiting for the death-knell days to pass.
Came Friday, Saturday, Saturday, Friday, Sat-ur-day.
The last time in a garden, they had gone away to pray.
But now, there was no use, no hope, no call to come, no one to care –
It was just a dead and dying garden and death itself, and the dead, without a prayer.
Life began in a garden and there it seemed to end. Yet, it was there, in a garden that it began anew.
There is some controversy about the exact location of the garden tomb. There is little controversy about the report that Joseph’s tomb was in a garden and that he lent it to the Teacher.
Mary met one she supposed to be a gardener there. He was a gardener, and more.
She and others had come to anoint His body and grieve His loss and meditate upon the meaning of a meaningless future without Him. They had brought incense and spice to compensate for the putridity of the lifeless garden, to sanctify the empty shell, and preserve, for a moment, the decaying flesh for the one who had animated that body and animated life itself.
How often, He had taken His band of brothers to the gardens to pray. He made gardens of hope wherever He went. The wilderness could blossom. Deserts exploded with beauty. That’s the way He was and was no more.
That would change. It would change with such a tidal wave of unexpected hope and surprising light that the eyes of their hearts would have to refocus on His resurrected presence before they could begin to realize that He was again among them.
In a moment, everything changed and they had not anticipated it. They had been taught to hope, but they had not learned how. They had no frame of reference for such appalling and audacious hope. They did not know how to respond.
C. Austin Miles tells his story of a personal journey to such a garden of his own heart, “I read…the story of the greatest morn in history: ‘The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet very dark, unto the sepulcher.’ Instantly, completely, there unfolded in my mind the scenes of the garden of Joseph….Out of the mists of the garden comes a form, halting, hesitating, tearful, seeking, turning from side to side in bewildering amazement. Falteringly, bearing grief in every accent, with tear-dimmed eyes, she whispers, ‘If thou hast borne him hence’… ‘He speaks, and the sound of His voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ Just one word from his lips, and forgotten the heartaches, the long dreary hours….all the past blotted out in the presence of the Living Present and the Eternal Future.”
So, he wrote the devastatingly beautiful hymn, “In the Garden.”
I know little about your garden, whether it be a budding garden of emerging beauty or a dormant patch of ground, whether it is a garden of intimate prayer or a garden of sorrow. I only know of this one garden that is the source of all seeds of life. It is the garden of resurrection.
An earthquake rattled the ground and shook the foundations. A stone rolled away and a cold, death hole in the rock took a deep breath of fresh air and out walked Life Himself.
And in He walks into our worlds of despair and hopelessness. Along the road to Emmaus, He walks with us. Into our upper rooms of seclusion and fear, He walks. Into the dark gardens of our personal Gethsemanes, He walks. Wherever we walk or fall, He comes and when He comes, we often mistake Him for just another gardener until He speaks or breaks the bread of life.
Our hearts burn within us. There is a rekindling of the fire of possibility. We are rattled to the core and the sun rises on a new day, a Sun-day!
There was nothing intrinsically attractive about the garden tomb. There is nothing intrinsically attractive about our barren circumstances. We wallow in our defeats; we hover under the stress of our worst nightmares; we wander aimlessly from the village to the tomb and back again without any sense of direction pondering the meaning of that which is meaningless.
And then …
And then, we hear someone calling our name as clearly as we have ever heard it. It is the voice of One who not only knows our name, but knows us in all of our pain, failure, sin, and sorrow. It is the voice of One who loves and accepts us. It is a credible voice. It is the voice of life. It is the voice of resurrection. It is the voice of Jesus.
He says things like …
“Because I live, you shall live also …”
“I am with you always …”
“I will never leave you or forsake you …”
“Go therefore and make disciples …”
“Be steadfast …. Your labor is not in vain …”
“Rejoice and be exceeding glad …”
“I go to prepare a place for you …”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life …”
“I am the resurrection and the life …. Do you believe this?”
Do you believe this?
Grab your Easter basket, put on your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it, and don your Easter duds. Hop in your car and head to the nearest church, but stop a moment along the way and reflect. You can go through all the motions of Easter and fill yourself with Easter goodies and still be carrying perfume to a hole in a rock if you do not believe that this celebration is more than a seasonal exercise in dead ritual.
Life began and ended in a garden and it is in a garden that life began again. It can for you today as well! The tomb is empty and the earth is full of the glory of God. Messages and indicators of death surround us, but this day, and all who have met Him alive in the garden testify to this reality: Life overcomes death!
Come to the garden!