Meg Peery McLaughlin
Suppose Mary Was Right
April 24, 2022
John 20: 11-18
John 20: 11-18
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The 90s was the decade when many movies had big reveal moments.
The Usual Suspects, Sixth Sense, Fight Club.
There were these aha moments when you
when you grabbed your brain and tried to put it back in your skull.
The 90s was also the decade when I met Dr. Frances Taylor Gench,
preeminent New Testament scholar,
who last year was the guest scholar at my preaching group,
and she similarly exploded my brain.
She was presenting scholarship on the Gospel of John,
and we were talking about the Easter story.
Now I know the resurrection itself should be the news that
baffles the mind. And friends, it should.
But if you’re like me,
sometimes when you’ve heard the story so many times,
the plot line becomes expected, normal.
The stone is rolled away,
the graveclothes are laying folded,
the body is gone.
I’ve always loved John’s telling of the resurrection.
Mark, as you heard last week, Mark is sparse on details,
and leaves much of the story in our very hands. . .
but John is a master storyteller.
Mary weeps. And gosh, don’t we know what that feels like—
when hope is in the past tense?
Jesus is there, but Mary doesn’t know it’s him until he calls her by name.
Yes, John, I love your telling.
But I tell you what,
I never thought twice about the detail John includes about what Mary supposes.
Supposing him to be the gardener, Mary said to him,
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him,
and I will take him away.”
Come on, Mary, you know Jesus,
he’s no yard boy,
how could you mistake him for the gardener?!?
Now, let me invite you to hold onto your brain,
and suppose Mary was right.
Suppose Jesus is the gardener,
the son who learned how to do gardening work from his gardener-Father,
who planted the Garden of Eden.
Suppose Jesus is the gardener,
who, in the resurrection,
is about the ongoing work of re-creation.
Suppose Jesus is the gardener,
standing there in that most sacred place
the garden which of course was there
at the beginning of the story, and the garden, which, too, is at the story’s end,
The Garden: the symbol of God’s desire for the flourishing of all creation.
Of course Jesus is the gardener.
I bet those early hearers of John’s gospel would not have been as dense as me.
When John describes Jesus’ burial
he practically falls all over himself in pointing it out:
Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified,
and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.
It’s not just a statement about terrain, but about theology.
The Garden was paradise—as it says in Genesis–
The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east;
and there he put the man whom he had formed.
Out of the ground
the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden
This is where humanity is given their vocation: to till and keep the garden,
where God celebrates that humans should not be alone, so we are given one another,
The Garden is where boundaries are set, where life is lived without shame,
The garden is where rivers of water flow,
and the hippopotamus and the hummingbird are given their names.
And when Adam and Eve break the boundaries and are banished,
that expulsion from garden becomes the metaphor
other stories: exile, for example.
When Ancient Israel describes coming home to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile,
they use language of returning to the garden:
For the Lord will comfort Zion, and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord, joy and gladness will be found in her.
And when Jesus is strung up on the cross, the dead timbers of a tree,
and that happens in the midst of a garden,
Of course John’s readers would have connected the dots:
A tree in a garden–
Jesus, who said he was the way the truth and the life, is on it.
Would they have already jumped to that image from Revelation—
where the tree of life has leaves for the healing of the nations.
The symbolism is thick,
hence all this art!
You know, I minored in art history across the street,
but I never remember noticing the gardener’s wide brimmed hat on Jesus’ resurrected noggin, or the shovel he held in his wounded hands.
I wonder what all this means for you?
Could Easter bring us back to our roots?
Could that be its power?
Could it be that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus
but also the resurrection of our own selves and our most true vocation?
Our vocation as creatures of the garden who are asked to till and keep it?
If you want to get real nerdy about it,
that verb, to till, in Hebrew, avad,
can be translated:
cultivate the garden, care for it, dress it, work it, tend it, serve it.
I confess I’m not a great gardener. I like hostas.
And they come back every year without me even touching them.
The people who owned our house before us, planted gardenias,
and there may not be a better smell.
But I believe this job to till and tend and serve
is a call beyond horticulture.
Emory Professor, Jennifer Ayers has written a book that argues that
our job as Easter people, as humans, is to live as inhabitants on this earth.
Inhabitants, not mere residents.
Kentucky poet-farmer, Wendell Berry,
says that we’re not even what we could call residents of this earth.
Claiming that we’ve been dislocated from our roots entirely,
Berry says we’ve become “a powerful class of itinerant professional vandals.”
Itinerant professional vandals. Oof. Lord, help us.
Think about the place you call home.
What took you from the moment of being a resident to an inhabitant?
When you first moved in, you learned the utilitarian things:
how to lock the door,
turn on the porch lights,
set the temperature,
even learn where the water shut off valve was.
But then eventually, you started to belong,
you welcome the light that creeps across the floor at dawn
while you sip your coffee in the chair in the corner,
the creaks in the stairs become sounds of comfort,
you meticulously blow off the pollen from the deck,
you plant purple phlox near the mailbox.
The house belongs to you, but you also belong to the house.
You tend it, serve it. You inhabit.
What if we saw that as our job on a macro scale?
Not just in what we pay a mortgage for?
What if we inhabited this great green garden from which we were formed,
and to which we will return.
Inhabited the garden that, in the beginning, God planted,
and early on that first day of the week, when Mary was weeping in weeds,
the garden where the risen Christ
shows up with hat and gloves,
promising that his work of planting and pruning
of watering and weeding, of cultivating and tenderly caring,
of growing and giving new and abundant and everlasting life is far from over—-
There are a million ways you can do that.
You’ll hear about some chances later in this service
from our own Katie Sanford,
but perhaps the first step is just to go outside.
I started this sermon talking about movies.
Since the 90s,
a growing body of research has begun to reveal how such screen time,
mixed with loss of open space and parental fear of injury,
has led to what was coined by Richard Louv as “nature-deficit disorder.”
Louv suggests that if we are going to save this garden around us,
we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.
For we cannot protect something that we do not love,
and we cannot love what we do not know,
and we cannot know what we do not see.
We’ve got to go inhabit the garden.
So perhaps our call
from this Easter story
that we’ve heard time and time again,
is to go outside.
Let creation bring you to your knees,
let it blow your mind.