Posted in Sermons, Writing

Easter 2019 Sermon: John 20:1-18

Before I was ordained and became a pastor, I worked in a garden. To make a beautiful job even cuter, I worked in a preschool garden. Now, all you adults are great, but 3-5 year olds are my people. I absolutely loved this job. Preparing the ground by weeding and hoeing and composting leftover organic material. Carefully planning and planting seeds, sometimes in long rows and sometimes in mounds and honestly, sometimes just scattered on the wind by a four-year-old. Even through the steamy Nashville summers, I thrived on being outside every day and living close to the earth and witnessing the brilliance of young, brand-new humans. Being in the garden was a perfect place to nurture my mind, my body, my spirit and my faith. Because miraculous things happen in the garden. Plots of ground where a child dumped a whole packet of watermelon seeds wound up being far more fruitful than the carefully-managed sections I planned; they just grew slowly and steadily. There were always just enough strawberries for each preschooler to have one. Plants that looked like they’d died, either from drought or heat or too many five year olds pulling at them all the time, still gave off seeds so their species would continue on. Squashes and pumpkins and decorative gourds grew out of the compost piles because they just couldn’t be kept from growing! As the saying from Jurassic Park goes, “Life finds a way.” 

You just can’t keep life down in a garden! Perhaps this is why there are so many wisdom sayings that have to do with gardens and harvest and planting and seeds. A favorite of mine, heard often from the mouths of those advocating for justice, and especially quoted by people searching for the disappeared students in Mexico, is “they tried to bury us but they didn’t know we were seeds.” As Pastor Tim shared just moments ago, it often happens that what is buried comes back, sometimes in ways we never expected or never dreamed about. Seeds, harmless though they may be, looking like they’re devoid of life, actually are harboring immense amounts of energy. Seeds, planted in fertile soil, can rise again and give life to the next generation. Seeds, in the right conditions, remind us that resurrection isn’t a one-time event. It is ongoing, unstoppable, prophetic force. 

Perhaps this is why Mary went to the garden on that early morning so long ago. She should have known that Jesus was dead. Mary had seen him die. Mary had seen it all–she had traveled with Jesus, heard him preach and teach and heal. She had been with him at dinner. I imagine she ate the bread and drank from the cup, perhaps being confused at what Jesus was talking about: where was he going that she could not follow? And despite her confusion, she stayed. After watching Jesus be arrested and beaten and paraded through the streets carrying the cross on which he was to be crucified, she stayed at the foot of the cross. She stayed with his mother Mary and the other women. She stayed, when the male disciples went away, afraid for their own lives that they would be associated with this man who was executed like a criminal. She stayed, while Joseph of Arimathea retrieved God’s body and lay it in a tomb. She stayed, while the stone was rolled in front of the tomb. Mary of Magdala should know what death means, having gotten up close and personal with it. She should know the finality of death, that once the body is washed and prepared and wrapped in linen and laid away, that body is not coming back to life. 

And yet…miraculous things happen in the garden. And so that’s where Mary went. The garden, the site of God’s original creation, the place where “the Word was with God and the Word was God” and “all things came into being through God and the Word.” The garden, the site of Jesus’ prayers and sanctuary. The garden, the location of the tomb hewn out of the rock. The garden, where the things that are buried rise again. We come, this morning, on the first day of the week, to the garden, asking “is it true?” This is what theologian Karl Barth said that every person who shows up to church holds in their hearts: the question, “is it true?” 

The question this morning is, “is it true that Friday not the end of the story? Is it true that Love really can not be put down? Is it true that God’s justice is coming, no matter if the authorities and the warriors and the politicians and the empires say it’s not?”

Nathan Roberts from The Salt Collective shared these words on Facebook on Friday: 

“Good Friday is the day Christians remember the public execution of Jesus. A day we are reminded of the consequences of living with revolutionary love. Love that stands beside assaulted women, love that flips over corrupt tables, love that throws parades, love that tells people to pray for “our daily bread” not just “my daily bread”, and love that provides free healthcare to those who society gave up on. Love without cultural boundaries, without fear of the government laws, without fear of religious judgement, without fear of dying. Jesus was publicly executed by a world that refused to change. And on Friday his body hung as a warning to all his followers. But Love would not stay dead.”

Miraculous things happen in the garden. Maybe Mary, showing up in the garden, not sure if she was too early or too late, would say, “Pilate tried to bury Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus was a seed. The empire tried to bury Jesus, but they didn’t know Jesus was a seed. The powers of death and destruction tried to bury Jesus, but they didn’t know Jesus was a seed.”

Jesus, planted in the ground, buried in a tomb, rose again early in the morning, a life-cycle completed and yet ongoing in seed and bud and blossom. 

But perhaps Jesus is also a gardener. After all, that’s what Mary thought when she saw him, when she heard him call her name so personally, so intimately, so lovingly. So if Jesus is a gardener, maybe it is by being a seed that does its own propagating, like wild dandelions shed their seeds to their surroundings. Maybe it was no mistake that Mary thought the Risen Christ was the gardener, because he was living proof of the resurrection. He had planted a seed of hope in the midst of the despair of Good Friday and the waiting of Holy Saturday and the deep night going into Sunday morning. Jesus had planted a seed of hope amidst the sacred spaces that were burning and the faithful who are grieving and the modern-day crucifixion that keeps claiming people for death who have so much more living to do. Christ Jesus has planted a seed in each of our hearts, in each of us a tiny resurrection, a small piece of Godself loving and dying with us. 

Because that is the true miracle of the resurrection–when the empire tries to bury us, push us to the margins, separate our families, destroy our home Mother Earth, drown us in anxiety and apathy, console us and keep us complacent, shove us into strict binaries of identities, crush passion and creativity…the empire forgot that we are seeds and we rise again. We are planted in this garden, in loving community, to be nourished and challenged and loved and held accountable by each other for the flourishing of all. WE can be the resurrection because Jesus planted the seeds of resurrection in each of us, preparing each of us to respond to God’s voice as God calls our names, telling us that the powers of this world, the powers of might and force and destruction and even death, hold no sway against love, justice, mercy and grace. 

And so, this morning, I remind you of the words of one of my favorite poets, lifelong Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry: “practice resurrection.” And practice we must, every day. Like Mary, we are showing up in the garden, maybe some of us fearing it is too late for redemption, some of us feeling like we are too early, it’s too soon, for new life to take shape…but y’all, just like Mary, we are right on time. Right on time to catch the first rays of dawn breaking through. Right on time to receive a promise of something more than grief and depression and anxiety and fear. Right on time to hear the God of Love speak our names in a way only God can call us…like the way only your mother can hug you just-so, or only a dear friend can discern the sly winks and nods. We’re right on time to witness God turning the world upside down, bringing forth something miraculous from something grievously mundane. We’re right on time to witness the seed bursting from its seed coat, sending its delicate tendrils up through the soil to convey a message of life ongoing, flourishing from bud into blossom. We’re right on time to be resurrected, out of the holy compost of our own lives, ready to see the rays of the Son, we’re ready to burst into bloom for all to see. 

Let us go forth to BE the resurrection this day, and every day of our lives. 

May it ever be so. 


This sermon preached Easter 2019 at Seattle First Baptist Church, in collaboration with Pastor Tim Phillips, who preached first on Joseph of Arimathea.