1 JESUS THE GARDENER Rev. Peter Schineller, S.J. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the King of Kings, our Lord and Savior. He is the Messiah, the Way, the Truth and the Life. These are among the many important names and titles we give to Jesus Christ. There is one more worth reflecting upon especially as Christians move to Holy Week and Easter, the most solemn week of the Church Year, namely Jesus the Gardener. JESUS THE GARDENER. Where does this come from, what does it mean? We go back to the first Easter Sunday. The place is the Garden of the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb. She sees it empty and weeps. Two angels try to console here. As she explains her reason for weeping, she turns and sees Jesus, but she does not recognize him. Mary “supposed he was the gardener” (John 20:15). Weeping, she explains that she is seeking the body of Jesus. Then “Jesus said to her „Mary‟! (20:16) From the sound of his voice, she immediately recognizes that it is Jesus. The artist Albrecht Durer captures that scene in his etching entitled “Christ as Gardener”. Jesus wears the cap of a gardener at work, and carries a shovel, about to go to work. Is it not fitting that Jesus risen in glory appears to Mary as the gardener in the Garden of the Resurrection? THE GARDEN IN THE SCRIPTURES. To picture and see Jesus as the Gardener very much agrees with the whole of the Scriptures. In the book of Genesis, God creates the Garden of Eden, and creates Adam and Eve to care for it. “The Lord God took Adam and put him in the garden of Eden to till and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But that garden is not only a garden place for Adam and Eve, but for God too! After their fall, Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden” (Gen. 3:8). Then, however, because of their sin, Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden. But God did not abandon his children. In the Old Testament, he sends the patriarchs and prophets, the kings and judges to admonish, correct and gather the people of Israel to be His people, the faithful remnant. Eventually in the fullness of time, God the Father sends his own Son to redeem and save his people. Jesus, born of Mary, goes about doing good, healing and teaching, gathering a new community of disciples. At the end of his public ministry, Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem the place where he will be rejected, suffer, die and rise. Every year now, during the forty days of Lent, Christians accompany Jesus as he journeys to Jerusalem – to the place of suffering and the place of new life. GARDEN OF SUFFERING. For Catholics, Lent ends in the afternoon of Holy Thursday when the Sacred Triduum, the three most holy days of the year, begins. Then the Garden reappears once again. After the Last Supper, the Paschal Meal on Holy Thursday with his disciples, Jesus proceeds to the Garden of Gethsemane. As the gospel of John explains “After this discourse, Jesus went out with his disciples across the 2 Kidron Valley. There was a garden there, and he and his disciples entered it (Jn. 18:1). John adds that it was familiar, “because Jesus had often met there with his disciples” (Jn. 18: 2). He prays there in great agony. He courageously commits himself to do the Father‟s will, even to death. Later, in that garden, the soldiers capture Jesus and his imprisonment and trial follows. On Good Friday there is another garden. On that day Christians recall how Jesus is condemned to death and carries his cross to Golgotha. John the evangelist again notes the garden: “In the place where he had been crucified, there was a garden” (Jn. 19:41). The place of death is a garden place. There Jesus dies into his Father‟s hands. GARDEN OF THE RESURRECTION. But the story does not end there. Jesus is taken down from the cross and buried in the tomb in that garden. On the third day, Easter Sunday, that place becomes the Garden of the Resurrection. Jesus breaks the bonds of death and begins to appear to his followers. First of all, he appears to Mary Magdalene and the women, those who had been most faithful to Jesus, remaining with him as he died on the cross. As the Gospel of John tells the story, and as the artist Durer pictures it, Jesus very fittingly and beautifully appears to Mary Magdalene as the Gardener. The garden is the place where the glory of God is revealed. Gardens are places of new and recurrent life, where plants, flowers, shrubs, vegetables come to life, spring time after spring time. The gardener is the one who oversees and does his part so the cycle of life reoccurs. The gardener plants and prunes, digs, fertilizes and waters so that trees and plants bear fruit, fruit in abundance. So just as God walked in the original Garden of Eden, so now again the Son of God, who is the Resurrection and the Life, appears in the Garden of the Resurrection as the gardener himself! Jesus shares this new life with Mary. Jesus instructs her: “Do not cling to me…Rather go to my brothers and tell them “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God!” (John 20:17). Mary Magdalene, truly the first Christian because to be a Christian means to believe that Jesus is Risen Lord, must go to tell this good news to others. She goes out to tell the Good News of resurrection, good news that bears fruit that will last. HEAVEN, THE GARDEN OF GOD. The work of Jesus the gardener continues now. United with him, Christians like Mary go forth to witness to the resurrection and to bear fruit. The goal of our labor is that all of God‟s people will one day be reunited in the kingdom of heaven, which again the Scripture describes as God‟s garden. The Book of Revelation describes heaven as the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city with mighty walls and ornate gates. The lamp or light in it is Jesus Christ the Lamb (Rev. 21). It also speaks of heaven as a garden, with the “river of life-giving water… which flowed down the middle of the streets. On either side of the river grew the trees of life” (Rev. 22:1-2). 3 Earlier in the book of Revelation, we hear the words to the Church of Ephesus: “Let him who has ears heed the Spirit‟s word to the churches! I will see to it that the victor eats from the tree of life which grows in the garden of God” (Rev. 2:7). Yes, heaven is “the garden of God!” We pray that at the end, the circle will be complete. From the tree of life in the garden of Eden, with Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden of the Resurrection, we continue on the journey to the tree of life in the kingdom of heaven, the new Eden, God‟s everlasting garden. The challenge now is to follow, to cooperate with Jesus Christ, so beautifully depicted as the gardener. We strive to follow the path of Jesus, from the garden of Gethsemane, with its struggle and suffering, its commitment to the will of the Father, through the path of the cross to the new life that begins in the garden of the resurrection. Our hope is that all humankind will be re-united in the Garden of Paradise. On the cross Jesus promised Paradise to the good thief: “I assure you: this day you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). The word “paradise” is simply is another word for garden, an enclosed and planned space of life and growth. Our hope is that at the end of our days, Jesus will say those same words to us and to all God‟s children, so that we can all be together in the God‟s garden in heaven.