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Belmont United Methodist Church in Belmont Massachusetts

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In the Garden - Rev Wimmer - April 4, 2010 - John 20:1-18


In the Garden
Easter Sunday 2010

I grew up on a farm and when I hear the word garden I think of the large vegetable garden that we had when I was a kid and the worst job I could get was weeding on a hot day in July but, oh my, the food grown there was heavenly. So much so that I still compare the veggies bought in a supermarket with that garden. I mean real vegetables have actual flavor, did you know that? I spoke to my Dad this week. He is really getting sophisticated about his garden now. Iowa not unlike here is basically saturated by water and the ground is muddy so he tells me he has a little box garden that he is working on. It drains better and he can get some of the early stuff in. They just don’t quit. The garden is as natural to their lives as the sun coming up in the morning. My Dad is 83 this year and the garden is happening. Liz and I have tried to make a garden here but it is a very sad replica of the garden of our youth. When we lived on the farm when we were first married we grew so many eggplants we didn’t know what to do with them and nobody around there wanted them even free. Even zucchini was more popular. We also raised organic soybeans for our vegetarian diet and ended up with garbage cans full of soybeans and no idea what to do with them. I am sure my father thought I was completely crazy but it wasn’t the first time and he kept quiet. I can’t even remember what happened to all those soybeans. If only we had known how to make tofu. But I digress. Liz and I still like to have a garden. There is something about a garden that feels right.

Now I realize that the whole farm I grew up on is a garden. Indeed the whole state of Iowa is a garden, the whole beautiful earth is a garden. We live in the garden of God’s creation. Do we forget where we are? In Genesis, we are created to care for the garden, for the earth, for life itself. Perhaps it has not escaped your notice that there are two accounts of the creation of the earth. In one we are created to have dominion over the earth, in the other, to nurture the earth. Already it is clear that this is theology we are talking about. This account of things as they began and as they are is an attempt to help us understand who we are in relationship to things, to the world. Some have taken the first to mean dominate, to use and abuse as we see fit for our own interests but it could just as well have meant ‘be responsible for’ which makes more sense to me but it is not difficult to see that, how you read this and what you believe about our role and the relationship of people and earth and living things and God, can make all the difference. If you believe that the earth is here to be conquered, to provide a livelihood for whoever “owns” it then you’ll pave paradise and put up a parking lot, but if you believe that there is a sacred responsibility to care for this planet that is our place to abide but it belongs to God, then you might begin to consider the connections that reveal that our lives are dependent on the good earth and that what we do to it we do to ourselves as well. And as far as I know there is only this one earth and if it is gone we won’t have to worry about relationships anymore.

In any case, it is my theory that the garden of Eden is not just a small mythical place on earth but represents the earth itself. It changed when our human representatives decided that they could do the God thing as well as God and so here we are still in Eden but lost and confused finding out that being God is really something better left to God after all.

In any case I can’t believe that it is a coincidence that Mary meets the risen Jesus in a garden and mistakes him for the gardener. Remember the time that I shared with you that sometimes I can see the trees breathing? I am not really crazy. I am just seeing the connections. Anybody can do it. I invite you to see this one staring us in the face in this lovely word from John. There is some humor here which is, I believe, a close approximation of grace. Mary loved Jesus and thought he was dead. Even she is not going to see Jesus alive and standing before her but even though she didn’t see the Jesus she thought she would see she saw the essence of Jesus, his soul if you will, for what is Jesus but the master gardener.

Remember God made people to be gardeners, to care for the living earth. After sometime it became evident that we would need some help with that and so God sent Jesus to show us how to do it. She mistook Jesus for the gardener but it was no mistake. He is the gardener, the gardener of the new creation, God is still creating. Life is not over. The story is not finished. The gardener, of course, the divine presence at the creation of the world, the divine presence at the salvation of the world, the divine presence alive and well, invisible and moving, stirring the earth even now, calling to those who have ears to hear the sound of silence, the sound of God singing, the sound of the eternal life that has always been and always will be. We are in the presence of mystery, the miracle of life itself, the wonders of God’s love survives even the most brutal violence the world can bring and here is the grace, the humor for Mary. He is not dead. He is the gardener, the last thing she expected. And then grace upon grace, he speaks her name. Do you know what it means to hear your name spoken by the one you love and thought was gone forever? Here is where the words fail.

I was talking to my little granddaughter on skype recently and I slipped out of the picture for a moment and I heard her little voice say “Where Bapi go? “ And I jumped back in the picture and I said, ‘Here I am, Here I am.’ And you know the feeling when you are so happy that the tears come to your eyes and that happened to me (it happens to me quite a bit lately). It is the only thing I can think of that would approximate what Mary might have felt in that moment when Jesus spoke her name: Mary. And the grace is that love does not stay dead. Gardens come to life every year and new life abounds and life goes on and if we dare to open our eyes and hearts, too, we know that none of this is random or coincidence but the living breathing presence of all that is holy and alive and this, this is our time to be alive in the world.

A new title for a book of poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti caught my eye this week at the library and I snapped up a book that nobody has yet touched entitled How to Paint Sunlight. This was especially of interest to me because when I paint I am trying to paint light into the painting even though I never told anyone that because then you would think I am crazy but I am not crazy or at least I am not the only one. This is how it begins:

I asked a hundred painters and a hundred poets
how to pain sunlight
on the face of life
Their answers were ambiguous and ingenuous
As if they were all guarding trade secrets
Whereas it seems to me
all you have to do
is conceive of the whole world
and all humanity
as a kind of art work
a site-specific art work
an art project of the god of light
the whole earth and all that’s in it
to be painted with light

And here is another connection. God the creator, the gardener of the garden is also the creator of the beauty and light that is also the garden, the essential soul of the garden. God is the cosmic artist creating not only life but beauty and love and light and all that makes life glad and good. Mary wants to hold him of course wants to hold the beauty and light but we can no more hold the light and beauty of God than we can catch the wind or stop time . God’s creation is not stuck in time. It is eternal. It holds us but we cannot hold it. It is alive and stirring. It must go on and so must we taking on the seasons of our life much like a garden: growing, bearing fruit, dying, coming to life again, all in God’s time, all in God’s good, sweet time. Jesus asks her why she is weeping but he knows why and so do we. She is weeping because she is alive and because love is still possible and there, in the garden, she has found everything that she thought she had lost.


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Belmont United Methodist Church is a Certified Welcoming Congregation


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