"Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song."
—Pope John Paul II
In the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden containing a new tomb in which nobody had yet been laid. Because it was the preparation day and because the garden tomb was conveniently near, they laid Jesus in this tomb.
On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb, very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and noticed that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus' body had been lain.
They said to her, "Woman, why are you crying?"
"Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they have put him!" she said.
Then she turned and noticed Jesus standing there. But she didn't recognize him.
Jesus spoke to her, "Why do you weep? Who are you looking for?"
She, supposing that he was the gardener, said, "Oh, sir, if you have carried him away, please tell me where you have put him."
Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
At this she turned to face him and said to him, in Hebrew, "Master!"
—John 19: 41 and 20:1, 11-16
This is one of my very favorite passages in all of Scriptures.
And I love it for so many reasons…on so many levels.
For one thing, I love that of all the places that God could have arranged for his Son's body to be lain after the Crucifixion, he had him placed in a tomb in a garden.
And that makes sense. It was, after all, in a garden that God's story with humanity first began.
The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man (and woman) whom He had sculpted…whom He had formed…there to care for it.
And where it all went terribly wrong…
The woman approached the tree, eyed its fruit, and coveted its mouth-watering, wisdom-granting beauty. She plucked a fruit from the tree and ate. She then offered the fruit to her husband who was close by, and he ate as well. Suddenly their eyes were opened to a reality previously unknown. For the first time, they sensed their vulnerability and rushed to hide their naked bodies, stitching fig leaves into crude loincloths.
Then, in this garden where Jesus is lain, God redeemed that story.
The circle once broken in Eden's Garden, by flawed, sin-stained humans like you and me, finds its completion at the foot of a cross in Golgotha where Jesus died, then climaxes in this garden when he rose again.
God brought his story…our story…full circle in a garden.
Another part of this story that I love is God's timing. Of all the times of the year that Jesus' death and resurrection could have taken place, he chose springtime. A time when life here on earth is awakening from the deep death of winter. Both landscape and human hearts alike are experiencing the renewal of hope that this Easter time of year brings.
Easter is…the soul's first taste of spring.
Then there's Mary Magdalene who at first mistook Jesus for a gardener.
I love that because, ironically, that is exactly what he is, as the Creator of this glorious world of ours.
And as such, after three days spent in suffocating death and darkness, I'd like to think that Jesus stepped out of that tomb, into that garden, and drew in a long, deep breath of fresh air, now sweetly scented with the fragrance of blossoming almond trees.
Then, spying the source of that wonderful aroma nearby, he did, as I do with my crabapple tree each spring after a long dark winter. He made his way over and thrust his nose deep into a branch-full of those pale, pink blossoms and savored the moment.
That is what a gardener's heart does.
In fact, he may have been down on his knees when Mary first caught a glimpse of him, smiling down in knowing kinship at a blood red poppy as it bowed its flowery head in praise of him.
So, it isn't surprising, then, that Mary didn't recognize him at first.
But, he isn't just the Master Gardener of creation—he is also the Master Gardener of our hearts.
And it was Mary's heart that kept him waiting there in the garden that resurrection morning…
Imagine it for a moment. Their exchange.
Mary's heart heavy, confused—her eyes clouded with tears.
Then Jesus tenderly speaks her name.
And at this she turns to face him.
Mary heard Jesus whisper her name.
I think she could've written these words from the old hymn herself that day…
I come to the garden alone. While the dew is still on the roses.
And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses.
He speaks, and the sound of his voice, is so sweet the birds hush their singing.
And the melody that He gave to me within my heart is ringing.
And he walks with me and he talks with me,
And he tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
Mary heard her name. And when she turned around, she saw Jesus. And that's when she knew—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that he was who he said he was. The beautiful Son of God. The Savior who loved her…died for her…rose for her and was waiting for her there, in that garden.
Yes! Jesus has risen indeed. And I pray this Easter you will know how much he loves you…that he died for you…that he rose for you and that he is waiting for you, too. May you open the ears of your heart this Easter and hear his voice whisper your name. May you turn from those things that weigh your heart down and lift your eyes onto his beautiful face and know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that he is who he said he is. Your beautiful Savior.
See the land, her Easter keeping,
Rises as her Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
Burst at last from winter snows.
Earth with heaven above rejoices...
How has Jesus personally shown you how much he loves you?