Wednesday, April 19, 2017

And He Truly Does Walks With Me

Easter 2017
John 20:1-18
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

The daffodils in the parsonage gardens started blooming last week. I thought they might get snowed on. And I was worried about them the night we had a hard rain that felt more like hail.

But their bright yellow heads have stood up through it all. Each year more and more flowers appear spreading over the gardens and putting smiles on the faces of those who have been longing, longing for a sight of spring, of resurrection from the death of winter bleakness.

I think that there is nothing more profound than a flower emerging from a brown blub or a tomato from a tiny, tiny seed.

No farmer has ever planted a seed, a shriveled-up seed, without wondering, how? How does this little bit of seemingly dried up useless looking bit of tissue turn into a green life-giving plant?
I firmly believe that when our seeds and bulbs cease to be mysterious we have lost a little something of our souls.

Which is why, I also believe, gardens are so important to the story of the resurrection. Actually, to the story of Jesus’ entire life, death and resurrection.
Even if you have never raised a plant on your own. Even if you couldn’t plant a garden to save your soul. Even if your thumb is purple with pink polka dots rather than green. You would have to be the scroogiest of scrooges and the grincheist of grinches to not be amazed or at least a little cheered by the sight of daffodils after a long winter.

Now I want you to remember something here: About our story as God’s people. For today we find out, not the end, but a very important chapter in the story of God with us.

Where did the whole story begin? The whole story of humans and God. Where God said let us make humans in OUR image? After Our likeness?
Where did this all begin? In a garden…
The garden of Eden.

This is not lost on the writer of the Gospel of John. The Gospel begins reminding us that Jesus was with us at the beginning: In that garden. The first words of the gospel of John are: In the beginning was the Word, was Jesus, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus was there at the beginning. In the garden. Creating and giving breath and life to human beings

And throughout the story of Jesus we know that he went to gardens to pray, to illustrate the ways God works in the world, to contemplate, and finally, to plead for his life.
Go to dark Gethsemane, we sing. The garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus asked, please God, not the cross. But only thine will be done.

And now, at the end of the story, or is it the beginning again???
We return to a garden.

How do we know it was a garden? Because of how Mary spoke to the stranger who turned out to be Jesus:

She, thinking that Jesus was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so that we can care for him.”

But this isn’t the garden of Eden. It is not a perfect place. Not yet anyway. It is still a graveyard, because Mary’s Lord is missing. And Love seems to be defeated.

The early morning of Easter didn’t begin with alleluias. The early morning of Easter began with weeping.

Jesus comes upon Mary weeping. Just as he did outside the grave of Lazarus. Mary is alone.
The disciples had come to see what it was Mary told them about. They came quickly, running neck and neck, one translator has written.
They quickly look in the tomb, see the grave cloths folded neatly and the grave empty,
and then they return to whatever they were doing.

I have never known quite what to make of that.

Except that typical of the gospel of John, it will be the woman who experiences and sees and believes the truth about Jesus. Not because woman’s gender is more attune to something. But because women in Jesus day are more like us. All of us. People who are ordinary. Not disciples. Not religious leaders. Not government authorities.
Ordinary people who will have ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart open to recognizing and believing in the Lord.

Why are you weeping Mary? Oh Mister: Because they have taken MY lord away and I do not know where they have laid him.

We always begin the Easter service here with the altar draped in black because we cannot just walk into the sanctuary on Easter Sunday and suddenly pretend that it is all over with. That the crucifixion and death is neatly put away.

We have to approach the buried altar, approach the tomb, and realize that without the grief of a death there cannot be the joy of a resurrection. We must stand for, at least a moment, with Mary.
And we have to learn to feel the deeply personal angst that Mary feels: My Lord. This is my Lord that was buried, that was crucified. This is My Lord who has been taken away. This is My Lord who is missing. My Lord.

Until this becomes fully personal. Not just a story with triumphant hymns of feel good alleluias, but a personal encounter with your Lord, it will only be a nice spring story.

When the Easter story is only that, a story. Of what good is it?
When it is not about your Lord who was crucified, dead and buried. Shriveled up in a grave. Seemingly just a pile of bones and tissue and elements. With no potential for anything but something to grieve over. Of what good is it? You can just go home, like the disciples. Back to what you were doing in the first place.

But if we linger with Mary, in the garden. Weeping because it seems our Lord is no longer with us. It seems that death has finally taken our Lord away.
And it is very, very personal for who can we be without Our Lord?
What can we do for the rest of our life without Our Lord?
What is the purpose of all of this, without Our Lord?
If we can stay with Mary weeping for a moment, then when the cover comes off death, when the Lord shows up to walk with us in the garden, calling us by name, then we can finally and truly sing the alleluias.
Because then the joy makes sense.

Because it is Our Lord who is raised. Who is no longer dead and buried and missing. It is Our Lord who personally overcame death for us.
Not just any death, but Our death that is overcome. It is Our sin that is forgiven.
It is Our garden in which Our Lord now walks with us.

We are not quite back in the garden of Eden there is still sin and destruction and death all around us. And the threats of war still echo. And the abuses of poverty still devastate. And the fear of the stranger still hurt. But we can now, once again, glimpse the hope and promise of an already but not yet coming of God’s kindom. We are now closer because our Lord, our Creator, has proclaimed that the garden, our world, is a place of birth and growth and new life. In the garden, Our Creator and Our Lord waiting to walk with us and journey with us until we finally do reach the completion of God’s kindom.

You see how important the garden is to our story? Our Lord, Your Lord wants to walk with you in the garden. Wants you to experience the personal moments with God so that you can know that resurrection is possible. That life comes from death. That even in the most darkest of hours and places Jesus, your Lord and your Creator will always walk with you.

There is a hymn that is sung most often at funerals but which I believe is more about Easter and the experience of Mary in the garden with Jesus. It is really more about our experience of life in the garden of this world. Not at our death but in our living. As we walk along and find ourselves walking with the risen Christ. In the garden that is not quite yet but getting to be the Kindom of God.

Find the hymn in your hymnals #314. And we will sing it together but only the 1 & 2 verses because I don’t believe the 3rd verse is true.
Mary was in the deepest night of her soul life, and Jesus didn’t bid her go, Jesus deliberately and purposefully came to her. Jesus will never bid you go. Never.

So, let us sing verse 1 & 2 of In the Garden.


1. 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.
Refrain:
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.

2. 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.
(Refrain) 

 The United Methodist Hymnal Number 314
Text: C. Austin Miles, 1913 (Jn. 20:11-18)
Music: C. Austin Miles, 1913; adapt. by Charles H. Webb, 1987
Tune: GARDEN, Meter: 89.557 with Refrain

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