Participating in the Resurrection
One of my favorite pastimes is doing yard work. I grew up doing it, and some of my earliest and fondest memories are of my dad pushing the lawn mower and me following behind with a rake, clearing the clippings. Maybe it’s the smell of fresh cut grass, or of earth and gasoline on your hands and clothing after a good day’s work; maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment you feel, turning energy and sweat into a good looking lawn that you can play in with your kids or your dog; or maybe there’s just something about caring for creation that’s innately satisfying for the soul, obeying God’s ancient and fundamental commandment to “tend the garden,” so to speak.
Since the weather’s finally begun to turn a bit, the kids and I have started that seasonal ritual of pulling out the hedge trimmer, doing some limbing, some mulching, some mowing, and getting reacquainted with the rake. The best part is gathering up all the fallen branches, building a burn pile, and then enjoying a big fire on a cool spring evening. I love witnessing what were once large tree branches, alive and green, undergo a drastic transformation into small pieces of black coal and ash, which will later be mixed with dirt and spread throughout the yard as fertilizer. Watching the fire do its work is, quite literally, bearing witness to a fundamental reality of all God’s living creation: the process of life, death, and resurrection. When you and I “tend the garden,” when we work in the field, forest, or yard, pruning, burning, cultivating, and fertilizing, we are, in a very tangible way, participants in resurrection. The seed that we scatter over soil and ash begins to emerge as fragile, bright green blades of grass. The dogwoods and muscadine vines that we prune and clean are poised to blossom. Spring has come and resurrection is upon us.
Today is Easter Day, the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, his triumph over death. Resurrection is the central message that gives Christians life: that Christ is alive, fully present and at work in this world. And not only alive, but alive despite his very real death. Alive despite the fact that the earthy powers did their best to insure the opposite. And today we are to celebrate and, as we prayed in a collect in the Good Friday liturgy, “let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection through Christ Jesus.”
The stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. This is what Mary Magdalene discovered on that first Easter morning. Jesus, her beloved teacher and friend who had died just three days before, was no longer inside. All that remained were the linen wrappings they had covered his body with. She called Simon Peter and the other disciple to come and see that the tomb was empty, that someone had taken Jesus’ body, and they too saw only the linen wrappings. They then left Mary to weep alone at the empty tomb, and as she wept, she took one last look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, and they asked her why she was weeping, presumably because they knew something that she didn’t. And as soon as Mary had explained to them the cause of her grief, she turned to find that someone else was with her: the gardener, perhaps? For some reason Mary didn’t immediately recognize Jesus, the man who had been her friend and teacher. It wasn’t until he named her that she realized who he was: the resurrected Jesus.
What strikes me about this story is Mary’s first reaction to the man she turned to see. She thought he was the gardener. And, you know, when you think about it, she wasn’t that far off. Instead of recognizing the resurrected Jesus as the flesh-and-blood man she used to walk and talk with, instead of recognizing him for who he was, she recognized him for what he is: a gardener, someone who raises up things that were cast down, someone who takes things that had grown old and makes them new. But the gardening that the resurrected Jesus does goes far beyond raking grass clippings and pruning trees. The garden that the resurrected Jesus tends contains each of us. He cares for us in life, feeding us with spiritual food at the Eucharist; he watches over us in death, as we pass from this life to the next; and he gives us new life as we live on as members of the Communion of Saints.
Like Mary, we too can recognize Jesus by what he is doing in this world. The very man who was resurrected himself, is in the business of resurrection now. Easter Day is not a memorial event. It is a celebration that resurrection is currently happening. The grass is growing and the flowers are blooming. Outside, things are being made new. This transformation is happening inside, in us, as well. When we see growth, change, revelation, and healing in our own lives and in the lives of others, we are witnessing the resurrection work of Christ.
As Christians, a resurrection people, an Easter people, we are called not just to observe the resurrection around us, but to be full participants in the process. Let us, this Easter Day, following the example of the resurrected Christ, commit to “tending the garden,” that is, to care deeply for ourselves and another, to help one another cast off old burdens, and to cultivate new fruits of hope, joy, and love in this world.
Alleluia Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Easter Day, Year C