Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sermon; Easter Day; John 20:1-18

The book of Genesis begins with two creation stories.  The first is the six-day creation story and is similar to other creation stories from neighboring societies.  It is orderly and liturgical in nature as it works to bring order out of chaos.  And, among other things, it is deeply poetic: And God said . . . and there was evening, and there was morning . . . And God said . . . and there was evening, and there was morning.

In the second story, creation takes place in the span of one day, and this story is more relational in nature than the first.  God creates a human to be placed in a garden, and the garden is surrounded by four rivers – the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates – from which it is nourished.  God gives the human the job of caring for the garden.  Then God creates animals of all kinds because it's a big and lonely job.  And God invites the human to be part of the creative process.  Finally God creates another human, and the man and woman live together with God in the garden.

As the day goes on, the woman finds herself in a conversation with a serpent.  The serpent never blatantly lies to the woman, but it never really tells the whole truth.  The woman eats fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and then gives some to her husband who was standing next to her.

Later than evening, God is walking through the garden and calls out to the man.  Both he and his wife hide because they are naked and ashamed.  What follows next is the original pass-the-buck story as he blames both God and the woman and she blames the serpent.  The result of all this is that the man and woman end up being banished from the garden before they can eat from the tree of life.

The rest of the biblical story, all the way through Revelation, is all about restoring that damaged relationship.  The biblical story, at its core, is a constant effort by God to bring humanity back into a good and intimate relationship that was present in the garden on that day of creation.  As it says in the Eucharistic Prayer, “Again and again, you called us to return.  Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law.  And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son.”

That Son, Jesus, is the embodiment of the relationship between God and humanity.  Through Jesus, God once again walks amid his creation.  Through Jesus, we are once again able to stand in the presence of God without being ashamed.  The Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is probably the greatest miracle to have ever taken place.

It was because of the Incarnation that, we believe, the relationship between humanity and divinity was restored.  It's not prefect, but it is restored.  Through Jesus we can see God reaching out to be involved in our lives.  Through Jesus we can see what it means to live with God at the center of our lives.  Through Jesus we have an example of what it looks like to include people we normally exclude.  Through Jesus we can see what sacrificial love looks like.  Through Jesus we can see forgiveness in action.  And through Jesus we know what it means to die to the world but live in God.

The person of Jesus gave us all these examples.  The person of Jesus invited people to follow him and learn once more what it looked like to be in relationship with God.

One of the things that restored relationship does is to nourish us.  A healthy relationship nourishes us in a variety of ways.  A healthy relationship can nourish us physically, spiritually and emotionally.  Jesus is telling us that in our restored relationship with God we will be nourished, and we will be nourished through him.  In John's gospel, Jesus proclaims that he is the bread of life and the living water.  Furthermore, he makes the audacious claim that those who eat the bread of life and drink the living water will never die.

Jesus is telling us that through him we will be nourished with life-giving bread and water.  Jesus is telling us that, if we partake of the nourishment he is offering, we will never die.

On the one hand we know that isn't true.  We all die.  Even Jesus died after being crucified.  But what we believe to be true is that through Christ we receive new life.  Through his death and resurrection we also will be raised to new life.  What that looks like exactly, nobody knows.  But what we believe is that, through Jesus, we are returned to a right relationship with God, nourished by his grace and given life-everlasting.

It is this resurrected life which we are given a sampling of today.  Early in the morning Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb.  When she gets there she sees the stone had been rolled away and the tomb empty.  After telling the disciples someone had stolen the body, she goes back to the empty tomb and is met by two angels.

In tears she turns away from the angels and is confronted by Jesus.  She confuses him for the gardener and wants to know where they've taken the body.  Jesus calls her by name and she immediately recognizes him.  She is the first to encounter the resurrected Christ.  She is the first to get a glimpse of life-everlasting.

But know this:  when Mary thought he was the gardener, she wasn't wrong.  One reading of today's gospel passage places the tomb in a garden.  That would certainly explain her thinking Jesus was the gardener.  If it was located in a garden, then what we have here is that Jesus, bread of life and living water, closes the circle opened in that second story of creation.

A river flowed out of Eden and became four branches – the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.  That water allowed the garden to grow and provided nourishment for the people living in it.  And the people in the garden tended it, living in perfect relationship with God, where he called them by name.

Jesus, the living water, proceeds forth from God the Father and divides into four branches – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  This living water allows the garden of the gospels to grow, and the bread of life found in those gospels provides nourishment for us.  Through Jesus we are called to tend the garden of the gospels.  Through Jesus, we are are called to tend that garden and live in relationship with God where he calls us by name, just as he did with Mary.

Jesus Christ is risen today and is calling us back to the garden of life and relationship.  Let's not make the same mistake Mary made and see Jesus as the lowly gardener.  Instead, let's see Jesus for who he is, the Master Gardener, who desires nothing more than to nourish us and live in perfect relationship with us.

Jesus Christ is risen today.  The tomb is empty, and we are being called back into the garden to eat from the tree of life.



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