What a holy week we have had, haven’t we?
If ever I needed cast iron proof that I’ve truly found my tribe with you lot, this holy week has confirmed it. A few of us have yawned through Morning Prayer or whispered our way through Compline. Beauty and creativity have sprung up in the labyrinth and the graffiti wall and most abundantly in those stations of the cross. We have held silence and sacred spaces and banquets and night watches. We lamented and waited at the foot of the cross. We have tried to, faithfully and tentatively, walk the Way of the Cross and we have done it together and we made it to resurrection. And didn’t we just!
And then, we hear the most stunning account of the resurrection narrative, as recorded in St John’s Gospel. We see faithful Mary Magdalene – last to leave Golgotha, first to arrive at the grave. We witness her fear at the moved – removed – stone, and we watch as these anxious, grief-ridden, competitive disciples – barely even able to cling to that title – race to the tomb, summoned by Mary’s fear rather than their own devotion.
They look in, they don’t go in, they go in, they see the linen wrappings, they believe, they don’t understand and then they go home. The account of them is frantic, chaotic, and kind of exhausting. But. Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.
They are too-ing and fro-ing, running and racing, and Mary just stood weeping. Sometimes it is good to just stop, pause, and have a good weep. Be like Mary!
And then, the tempo changes into this beautiful tender kind-of distanced embrace.
She sees two angels – just sitting there in the tomb – and they ask her ‘why are you weeping’ and she says, ‘they have taken away my lord and I do not know where they have laid him’, heart-wrenching, and then she turns, in her grief, and she sees Jesus. He’s right there and she sees him, but she thinks he is the gardener.
Through history, art has given us gorgeous glowing images of the resurrected Christ. He is always wearing billowing white robes because he must always be standing in front of some kind of holy wind machine. And he is glorious and radiant and…really clean. But Mary mistakes him for the gardener, and if you’ve been around these grounds on a Wednesday morning, you will know what gardener’s look like. They don’t wear their best clothes and they have mud under their nails and leaves in their hair. And I think maybe that says something more important about resurrection – something that is stolen from us if we cling to these images of a golden angel, minus the wings.
Jesus was dead. He was beaten and broken and dead. Murdered, brutally.
On Friday I told you that I still deeply wonder why Jesus had to die, or if he even did have. And I said I will always continue in that wondering, and I will. But the bottom line is, he died. We know that to be true. God died and was placed in that tomb. And in my questioning and my wondering I have spent some time thinking about what happened next.
In our creeds, and in the pages of scripture, we hear about how Christ descended to the dead. On Good Friday God died, but by Holy Saturday, God was up to God’s amazing, transformative, redemptive work of salvation, for all people and all situations, for all time and all eternity. First stop; the gates of hell, and with the keys of life Christ smashed them open – I swear, from the inside, and then declared, ‘everyone out – you first Judas’.
On Holy Saturday Christ was BUSY!
There was work to be done. He didn’t just rest there in that tomb, healing. He got straight to work in the divine plan of all salvation. There was more to do. Death needed to be shown it didn’t win. Pain and suffering didn’t win. Destruction and human failings didn’t win. Abuse didn’t win. Hatred, oppression, injustice, poverty, racism, war; all these things didn’t win. Love won. Love wins. Love goes down to the dead and restores life. Love smashes the gates of hell and sets captives free. And Love beats darkness; it takes it and redeems it, into something good and pure and holy and beautiful. It’s no wonder Mary mistook Jesus for the gardener. That’s exactly what he was – the pruner, the re-creator, the One to plant the new heaven and the new earth.
You see, the resurrection isn’t about making everything shiny and clean. It is about total transformation – destruction of the old and creation of the new. The work of the holy gardener, sowing and seeding and cultivating new life. Sowing seeds of light and hope in the places of all darkness so that it might overcome.
I love the thought that the risen Christ looks more like a slightly scruffy gardener with dirt under his nails because it means he’s at work and it also means I can more likely imagine becoming more like him. I’ll never be a wingless angel, but I might get messy in the work of telling darkness and death to pack its bags and leave. I will gladly get messy in the work of telling oppression and injustice that its days are numbered, and it has to go. That’s the work of the gardener and that’s the work of us because we are the gardening team.
So, this easter, this year, listen out for the voice of that holy gardener as he calls your name – like he did with Mary – and then look up, see this gardener handing you a spade, because there is work to be done and our Risen Christ needs a hand.