I am preaching (or preached depending on when you read this) this Easter Sunday (7am!) on John 20. One thing that I did not (or will not) have enough time to talk about is this interesting bit of the story.
First things first, John is not a haphazard author. He is very intentional about how and where he uses words and details. That being said, there are two interesting qualities about the resurrection narrative that we will miss if we aren’t careful. When talking about the tomb where Jesus is buried John says, “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41) When Mary is in the tomb chatting it up with the angels, she turns and “thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’" (John 20:15b).
What is the obscure detail we hear? Garden, garden, gardener. John is trying to point toward something. He is trying to paint the resurrection as something far beyond that moment. He is painting it as the birthing of something sown at the very beginning of The Story. It appears that he is announcing a return of the gardener… a return to (of) the garden.
How can that be? Wasn’t the Garden of Eden perfect? If it was, and this is about returning to the garden, then something messed up because we all know that our world is far from perfect. I think there are two possible solutions (both of which could be simultaneously true).
First is the way many would instinctively deal with this. We would say that John was talking about the fixing or returning to a spiritual state that had been broken since the fall of man and can now be mended through Jesus. In other words, Jesus’ death and resurrection allows us to have true forgiveness and a relationship with God the Father.
Another way to understand it has its roots in the Hebrew language. Our understanding of the garden flows from a Greek dualistic view of the world (light and dark, good and evil, perfect and imperfect, etc.). This was not the way the Jewish people viewed the world. Without chasing that rabbit trail, we can recognize that they have a fundamentally different view of some things than we do. Perfection is one of them.
The Hebrew language does not have a word for “perfect.” In fact, the word we generally translate as perfect (tam/tamam) means complete/whole, and is relational meaning suitable/mature. In other words, it is not a static state.
In the Greek understanding the Garden of Eden must exist in a relatively static state of perfection because any change would mean one of the two states was not perfect. However, if we look at it through Hebrew eyes, we see that the Garden was suitable, mature. It was complete in the sense that someone who has completed puberty is a finished with their physical maturing and ready (physically) to create offspring or in the sense that the turkey has completed cooking because the little plastic thingy popped out. The Garden in this understanding is no longer perfect in the Greek way of thinking, but good. (I think it uses that term somewhere in the story)
That changes things. When Jesus rises from the dead, it doesn’t instantly bring guilt and condemnation in a new level because now we can be perfect (again?). Rather, it brings hope that we do not have to continue in a downward spiral. We do not have to fade into the darkness as the stone rolls over the cave. No! We can break out into glorious light as Jesus brings us once again to a place where we can mature spiritually. Where we are no longer stuck in some infinite spiritual adolescence (yikes!), but can get past the voice changes and tripping and get to the real life of being a follower of God the Father.
Like I said, two options. Both can be true. Or either. You must listen to Him, and I trust that the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to reveal the truth to your soul. As for me, I’m always discovering His truth and my own error.
Coming this August!
The Book of Everyday Prayer is for anyone looking to have deeper conversations with God in a busy world. It contains a seven-day read-along guide for praying the hours—dawn, morning, midday, afternoon, evening, and midnight. Within each prayer you’ll find Scripture and even song lyrics to help you focus your mind and heart on God.
Also included in the book are a set of ancient prayer practices and over 30 prayers for every occasion from cleaning your room to taking a test to fighting with a frien.