The Great Gardener

 Inspired by John 20:11-18

Gardening has always been an important part of my life, especially during my formative years, but certainly continuing to today. Gardening has been a vital connection point. My only grandfather that I knew lived in Colorado, and since I grew up in California, I didn’t get to see him very much. He’d visit for the holidays, and we’d visit him in the summers when we could, but that’s about it. So, if was going to have a good relationship with him it was going to take some work. And most of that work was my dad handing me the phone and telling me to talk to grandpa. For a kid this was asking a lot. For a very introverted kid, this was asking too much. In hindsight, I’m glad I was handed the phone. Though we talked often, our conversations usually took the same form every time.  

Partly due to his limited English, and partly due to my 10 year old conversational skills. He’d ask me about the weather. Easy enough. I’d ask him about his. He’d ask me about school. Always a sore subject for me, so I moved on from that as quickly as I could. And then, finally, he would ask, “How’s your jalapenos doing?” Now we were getting somewhere. This I could talk about. You see, my grandpa had a massive garden, both flowers and fruits and vegetables: corn, melons, tomatoes, grapes, prickly pears, carrots, and…jalapenos. I was so in awe of his garden when we would visit him, his ability to create food, his ability at such an old age, he was already 74 when I was born, to tend to so much land by himself, he was just one of those people who was one with the land, and I was in awe. 

So, back home in California, with what little backyard I had, and the clay filled soil that I had to work with, I did my best in my little garden. We started a grape vine from one of his. Never produced a single edible grape. Tried tomatoes, but the bugs ate them faster than we could. I had a nice cactus garden! However, it was the jalapenos that really shined. My grandpa would say, “Don’t water them too much! You gotta keep them angry! That’s how you get hot ones.” I don’t know if there is any truth to that but let me tell you, those jalapenos were hotter than the blazes of hell, and my mom’s salsa she made with them? Was lethal! Lethal! Anyway, all that is to say, gardening was how he and I connected. It’s how my dad and I connected. It’s how my daughters and I have connected. And it hasn’t just been fruits and vegetables that have grown over the years in all those different gardens. 

Here at Bethlehem, we’ve been reading through the Gospel of John since December, and back in September we started reading some of the great stories from the Hebrew scriptures that paired well with the upcoming Gospel of John. And the first story that we read was the creation story from Genesis 1. And in that story, God is doing some gardening. Only it’s not just fruits and vegetables that God is growing but everything, flowers, animals, bugs, light, water, you name it God was gardening it. And when God was done, did God hang up the divine shovel and rake for good? Not by a long shot. It was now time to do some other kinds of gardening.  

Gardening relationships with everything and everyone that God had created. And that kind of gardening, God continues to do to this very day. If you’re a visitor today and you’re thinking, where in the world is this guy going with this. Don’t worry, the regulars are thinking the same thing, they’re just used to it! Ok, so fast forward to the Gospel of John, and gardens have been coming up again and again. Hmmmm, wonder what that’s all about. Well, I’m about to tell ya! The Gospel of John opens with these words, “In the beginning…” Where have we heard that before? Genesis 1, which begins with, “In the beginning…”, immediately placing us in that original garden. Then, throughout his ministry, Jesus and his disciples return to a garden to rest and recharge and reconnect.  

Then at the end, Jesus is arrested. Where? In a garden. Then Jesus is crucified. Where? In a garden. Then Jesus is buried. Where? In a garden. And finally, Jesus rises from the dead. Where?... You’re so smart! Look at you! In a garden! Ok, even the biggest skeptics have got to admit, that can’t be a coincidence! What is going on here? Why is the author consistently bringing up the image of a garden? Well, I think it’s less about the garden itself, and more about the one who is doing the gardening. I laugh each time I read that Mary thought Jesus was the gardener. It’s easy to read that as a case of mistaken identity, but I’m not so sure the author did. I think the author wants you to go a little deeper and realize that Jesus wasn’t just the gardener, but Jesus was thee gardener.  

The Gardener by Joel Briggs
The great gardener, the one who has been gardening from day one, the one that gardened the world and the entire cosmos into existence, and has never stopped since the Earth took that first spin around the sun. The great gardener who wasn’t content to just throw some seeds and hope for the best but remains in our lives, tends to us, nourishes us, prunes us, loves us into more than we ever thought we could be. The great gardener who is always gardening no matter what we may be going through, no matter how angry us little jalapenos may be at times. That’s why all those moments in Jesus’ life took place in a garden, because no matter what we are going through God is always gardening! 

When life is challenging you the most, God is gardening new life into yours. When you feel all hope is lost, God is gardening new life into yours. When you are at your most spiteful, most rebellious of moods, God is gardening new life into yours. When you suffer the deepest losses, God is gardening new life into yours. When you are soaring through life’s highest highs, life’s greatest joys, God is gardening new life into yours. When anxiety takes hold, when depression takes hold, when despair takes hold, when fear takes hold, God is gardening new life into yours. And there is nothing, nothing, that you could ever do or say, that could make God ever stop wanting to garden new life into yours. Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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