"Mary and the Gardener"
An Easter Sunday Sermon preached
at the Mint Methodist Church Exeter
at 10.30 am on Sunday 8th April 2012
by the Minister, Rev Andrew Sails
She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, "Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She cried out Raboni (Jn 20.15-16) Jesus said to her go tell my brothers” (v17)
Let’s look at Mary in the Garden - first as she meets the risen Christ
and then as she is sent to spread the news.
MEETING THE RISEN CHRIST
Mary meets the risen Christ. She thinks he is the Gardener.
Why? Its still dark Maybe she is looking the wrong way.
Maybe her eyes are clouded with tears and exhaustion.
And she doesn’t expect to meet the risen Christ anyway -
she’s looking for a corpse from the past, not a Lord for the future.
How often do we fail to notice the risen Lord?
- Maybe we too are looking the wrong way for Christ -
looking in easy places, nor difficult demanding places
- Maybe tears blind us - our sorrows overwhelms our hope
- Maybe we are plain un-expectant - going through the motions,
but not really expecting Christ to speak to us?
It is frightening to wonder how often the risen Lord
taps us on the shoulder and yet we continue oblivious of his presence.
Never forget - he is always there -
even when you are too sad or preoccupied to see him.
And praise the Lord, he never gives up on us -
He knows each of us by name,
and he will keep on calling us.
Mary “thought he was the Gardener” -
At one level of course, this is all wrong.
But John’s Gospel is full of deep ironies -
and ironically Mary was in one sense right.
Actually the whole of John’s Gospel can be seen as
a parallel to the creation story in Genesis,
it is the story of the New Creation in Christ.
Remember Mary arrives at the tomb
“on the first day early in the morning, while it was still dark…”
Creation in Genesis also begins on the first day in the darkness.
Easter Day is the start of the New Creation
When Jesus meets Mary by the tomb in the garden,
John almost certainly has in mind a parallel with the garden of Eden..
The Garden by the tomb becomes the new Eden.
Some of you may remember 1970s singer Joni Mitchell’s song
about the great Woodstock Festival.
She sang of those the half million going to Woodstock
with their dreams and visions of peace in a world of violence -
“And I dreamed I saw the bomber death planes
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation”
The song ends by affirming our potential as a human race -
but recognizing how we fail to fulfil that potential -
with the final chorus:
“We are stardust, we are golden…
We are caught in the devil's bargain …
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden”
So often our world seems like that grim desert east of Eden
where Adam and Eve were banished,
where they struggled by the sweat of their brows,
where Cain murdered his brother Abel,
and where Adam and Eve were finally to die.
Caught in the devil’s bargain.
But Easter says - Sin and death do not have the last word.
In Christ there is a new creation
He is the Gardener who says “I have defeated death and evil,
I have re-opened the gates of Eden -
and planted the trees of life which are for the healing of the nations -
and today you will be with me in paradise!
SHARING THE GOOD NEWS
That is the Easter Good News-
In Christ love defeats evil and life defeats death
But as soon as Mary has met with Christ,
she is immediately commissioned to spread the news -
Don’t hang on to me says Jesus - go and tell the others!
Where Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden
Mary is sent from the Garden to proclaim the good news.
She is the first apostle sent by the risen Christ.
That is actually quite astounding.
Sadly, everyone in the Ancient World knew (or thought they knew)
that a woman’s word was quite unreliable -
if you needed a witness in a court of law,
I am afraid you just didn’t rely on the word of a woman
Actually the fact that the Easter story hinges on a woman’s testimony
shows that the Early Church didn’t make it up -
If you were inventing it would have been Peter or John or James
who was sent with the message -
but it’s Mary, who becomes the apostle to the apostles,
the primary Christian witness, the first Christian evangelist”
Before the resurrection, Jesus had only sent men -
now (at this absolutely critical point) he sends a woman.
It makes you wonder how on earth the Church managed to spend
most of its 2000 years restricting the role of women.
Mary Magdalene was also an unusual woman.
Her detailed biography is debated
(it depends which stories you think refer to her
as opposed to other women).
But in Church tradition Mary Magdalene has often been
seen as the reformed but still sensuous ex prostitute
still not afraid to let her hair down (literally and metaphorically)
and liable to do the un-expected -
like wiping Christ’s feet with her hair.
Maybe that is not be historically true -
but I'd like to think it was -
Jesus certainly called - not Peter or James or John -
but Mary as the first apostle of the resurrection.
So maybe whoever we are - whatever our gender,
our personal history, our personality -
there is a job for us all in preaching the resurrection.
So Easter is a time to reflect not only on the new life in Christ
but also on how we can share that life with others.
Cardinal O’Brien in his Easter message today bids us
wear a cross to proclaim our Easter faith.
That is OK I suppose it might even be a good thing.
But never forget that it is more important
to carry a cross than to wear a cross,
to live the Resurrection faith, not just talk about it.
So finally here is a contemporary Easter story,
told by Father (now Cardinal) Timothy Dolan.
Fr Dolan tells how tells how on Good Friday 1989, he was visiting a ward of dying men in an AIDS hospice run by the sister of Mother Teresa.
Following Catholic tradition, he took a crucifix to the bedbound patients, so that they could kiss it. The Cardinal says “As I went from bed to bed, I noticed one emaciated man … beckoning me to come to him. As I began in turn to approach his bed, the sister halted me, warning that this man was unusually violent, hateful to all, and had actually attempted to bite the attending sisters a number of times. Of course, you realise the consequences of being bitten by one with Aids. ….Slowly, cautiously, I approached, and carefully extended the crucifix, which he grasped and kissed” - - not on the feet as usual, but on the face… He then lay back down, exhausted.
He continues: “The next day, Holy Saturday, the sisters called to tell me that the same man had asked to baptised. He says “I asked if he could explain to me why he desired to enter the Church. “I know nothing of Christianity or the Catholic Church,” he said, with the little bit of strength he had left. “In fact, I have hated religion all my life.
All I do know is that for three months I have been here dying. These sisters are always happy! When I curse them, they look at me with compassion in their eyes. Even when they clean up my vomit, bathe my sores … when they spoon-feed me, there is a radiance in their eyes. All I know is that they have joy and I don’t. When I ask them in desperation why they are so happy, all they answer is “Jesus”.
I want this Jesus. Baptise me and give me this Jesus! Give me joy!”
He died at 3.15 on Easter Morning.
There is a model for Christian living -
So this Easter morning,
Let us look and listen for the Lord.
Let us rejoice that the whole world has been given new life in Christ -
we live in a new Creation now - in which death & evil cannot prevail.
Then in that knowledge, let us follow Mary out of the Garden
into the dark and desert places of need,
where Cain & Abel still struggle and Adam & Eve still sweat and die
- and there let us so speak and live the resurrection message.
that all people may find their lives touched with resurrection power.
For Christ is risen -
and nothing, but nothing, will ever be the same again!!