In the garden Mary meets Jesus. What a wonderful image. The biblical narrative begins in the garden with Adam and eve and we arrive here at the place where Mary is named by Jesus and she recognises him.
Gardens play an integral role in the this story. The garden on the Mount of Olives where Jesus and his disciples retreat to pray. The same Garden where Judas comes and betrays Jesus. The various gardens and open spaces which play in and out of the Easter panorama. The grotesque garden on Golgotha where Jesus is crucified. And now the garden, the burial place, where Jesus is placed and where he makes his first appearance to Mary.
Gardens have always been apart of the Jewish story. The Garden in the two creation stories, the various gardens or timbered places which play apart in the various Old Testament stories. Nature and natural beauty, rugged or otherwise, sit or not from the centre of each story.
The incarnation is not just the story of Jesus. It is the indwelling of God in all created subjects and it is appropriate that key stories talk place in gardens, no matter how rustic or ordinary they may be. The human journey is one in search of Paradise lost, the garden we had but once and lost through our own desire to be the one in charge. Jesus is the fulfilment of that journey, yet it is still a journey – a gift or grace on behalf of and an act on our behalf
Standing outside the empty tomb, still unsure about the suggestions that Jesus is alive, Mary confronts the stranger who joins her. She fails to recognise Jesus but mistakes him for the gardener. When he calls he name she gasps with recognition and drops to his feet.
The gardener, what a wonderful image for Jesus and a reconnection with Paradise Lost. Jesus reconnects us to who we were before Adam and Eve became conscious of their ego self and began to live out of illusion and self. Here we have Jesus, the gardener, standing in the space in between heaven and earth and making space for our true self to come alive.
Adam and Eve, Mary and Jesus, types of each other at a different place in the story. Adam and Eve self conscious and full of guilt of being found naked and unprepared in the garden Jesus and Mary fully comfortable in a relationship tested by great tragedy and deep love.
And it is this relational aspect of the resurrection which is relevant to us today. The difference between Adam and Eve and Jesus and Mary is the innocence and honesty of their relational self-disclosure.
We, like Adam and Eve, are conscious of who we are, of the social structures into which we must fit, the consumer mores which drives us to behave in so many ways that go against our essential self. We listen to others and hear things which compel us to condemn ourselves, to strive to be better, to become a new you/me, to find happiness, fulfilment, closure. A journey that never ends.
Neither condemns the other. The one for not recognising him and the other for the deep sorrow and darkness she has experienced. There is simply recognition of a relationship, which has survived and will survive forever. There is innocence, a welcoming of the moment in its entirety. Here in the garden all the experiences they have shared, the horror and sorrow of the last few days are gathered up and bundled together as one all empowering experience.
Unlike moderns, this story doesn’t rush for closure, for a moving on from what was painful and unforgettable. Even here they stay in and experience the moment for what it is, the overflowing of longing, hope and presence. Mary is admonished not to hold on too tight or to hang on too long. This, even this, is not the end. There is more to come. The anguish of this experience will be replaced with the anguish of the disappearance of the physical manifestation of Jesus.
We like to see what we see, to be able to touch and smell the material essence of life. We are uncomfortable with anything that can’t be explained and therefore have a fear of losing what we now hold on to. It is why death frightens us. Not so much the dying, but the letting go of that which we have held onto, that has given life its meaning. Mary and the disciples now have to face the compete loss, at some point, of the physical, visible, audible Jesus. The resurrected Jesus becomes the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, and this disembodied presence is much harder to explain, claim and relate to.
No wonder Mary wants to hold on. How do we make that journey from an intervening God who has the characteristics we can explain in human terms to a God who is spirit and love? A God ever-present and indwelling but intangible and elusive. A God who is alive but in no need of physicality to define presence. A God who is present not just us as humans but to all creatures to the extent each is capable. A God who calls us back to whom we were before we were born.
Here is the return to the child, the virgin. A return to the innocence and openness of a some-one who is without judgement and images, with ideas and ideologies, who simply holds in both hands, sees with both the eyes the beauty in all things as they are. Mary does not judge, there are no questions, no please explains, no I want to know why? At no point does she chastise Jesus. She has been so emptied by the experience of his death that she is now ready to engage with a new way of seeing. She is transformed by her experiences and begins to see differently.
Being transformed means letting go of our worldly way of seeing things, seeing through the lens of our false our superficial self, by letting go of the things which prevent us from seeing, hearing experiencing as a child does; not in duality but in unity.
Legend tells of a young man and a guru walking along the edge of a cliff. The young man asks the guru to explain the meaning of faith. There is a
Gentle silence before the Guru replies, Faith is leaning out of the edge of the cliff.
The young man smiles, that is simple.
The guru suggests he go to the edge of the cliff and hold out his hands. He does so.
The guru asks him what does he feel?
‘I can feel the updraft coming up the side of the cliff.’
The guru smiled and said, ‘Faith is leaning out until all that holds you safe is the updraft.’
Mary is in that place for just a moment and begins to understand the call of God on her life.
On this Easter day can we reach out to be held up by the spirit of God? Or do we need the material world for our safety net. Amen.