“It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb.”
So begins today’s Gospel, but our reading of the events that first Easter morning is cut short at the arrival on the scene of Peter and the Beloved Disciple. You can tell the Lectionary was complied by men. Do read on when you get home, because the interesting bit really happens next, when Mary returns alone to the empty tomb. We are told that, still weeping, she stoops to look inside. There she sees two angels who ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” to which she replies, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.” Turning round, she sees Jesus standing there, but doesn’t recognise him. Jesus asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she says, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.” Then she hears her name, spoken by the man she supposed to be the gardener. “Mary,” he says. At once she knows who it is.
For the past ten years I have preached about Peter and the beloved Disciple who saw and believed. Today it is the turn of Mary Madgalene, the Apostle of the Apostles, she who was the first to see the Risen Christ and the first to tell the disciples what she had seen. It was, of course, still dark when Mary came to the tomb and scarcely day when she first set eyes on Jesus there in the garden. Who else should be there on the first day of the week just before dawn but the gardener? And it was Spring, a busy time for gardeners. Admittedly, she was weeping; even so, it was the gardener she took him for. By the way, have you noticed the blossom and the wild flowers this Spring? What has really caught my eye this year are the dandelions. I can’t remember ever seeing anything like it. Walking on our field with the dog is like making your way through a universe of fiery suns. Amazing! Yet this is just a shadow of what is to come.
But Mary did not make a mistake in taking him for a gardener. This sort of mistaken identity is typical of the Fourth Gospel as are double or multiple meanings of words that, in several senses, turn out to be the true. The Risen Christ was not a gardener, at least no ordinary gardener, but a gardener he was in a greater, deeper way, for he is the Incarnate Word of God, through whom all things were made. Did he not plant the fairest garden that ever was, Paradise, the Garden of Eden? And ever since God created all things to be good through the power of his Word, has he not tended and cared for his creation with the greatest love and attention? He makes our gardens, our fields, our woods and forests to be green again each Spring. He gives us the seasons, the sun and the rain, and flowers, herbs and plants of all kinds that we gather, harvest and use for all sorts of purposes. But neither Paul with his planting nor Apollos with his watering could do anything without the Risen Christ.
This leads us on to think of Jesus as the gardener of our souls. Is it not the Lord Jesus who weeds out whatever is sinful, malicious or unproductive? Does he not sow and plant them with true roots and the seeds of holiness and righteousness? Has he not grafted us on to the olive tree of the new and eternal covenant, his Mystical Body, the Church of God? Does he not water our hearts and souls, with the dew of his grace and cause them to bring forth the good fruit that leads us to eternal life? Just think of all those parables about Jesus and the Kingdom.
But there is more. Christ rising from the dead was indeed a gardener, who obedient unto death and doing the Father’s will became that wheat grain buried in the earth, who sprang forth to life, a plant such as was never seen before or since, a dead body caused to shoot forth alive out of the grave. As we sang in the Victimae Paschali, “Dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus.”
And yet, is it Christ alone who rises from the dead today? By no means, for by virtue of what has happened this morning, he will garden our bodies too and turn all our graves into garden plots. One day, the Last Day, he will transfigure land and sea and all creation into a great garden in which the dead will rise from their graves and we will witness the Resurrection of the flesh. This we proclaim to believe each time we say the creed, the Paschal faith into which we were baptised. In the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God transforms the whole of creation into a new heaven and a new earth.
Mary Magdalene, weeping as she stands there at the graveside, beside the empty tomb, represents all those who before Christ’s Resurrection wept over the dead. The Risen Christ has given her new life and brought joy to her spirits that were good as dead. He recognises her as his own and calls her by her name. Today we witness not only the Resurrection of Christ but that of Mary Magdalene too. For our Risen Lord has wrought in her a kind of resurrection. He has revived her drooping spirit and wiped away her tears. No longer does she mourn the dead, but proclaims to the disciples and to the world that Jesus lives, that he is risen, that death no longer has power over him and that he shares his Spirit with us, the Spirit of truth and life, the Spirit of freedom and joy.
The Gardener has done his work. The gates of Heaven have been opened and Paradise is ours. Nothing can ever be the same again. This is a new creation. Today Christ gives us part in his victory over sin and death. He gives us new life as he did to Mary Magdalene. No need to weep over the empty tombs of our sinfulness, of our mortality, rather we should rejoice because we have seen the Gardener and he has called us by our name. Amen.