Supposing Him to be the gardener

A sermon for St Chad’s church 22/07/18

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord

A couple of months ago I decided to tidy up the garden at my house. Near my front door was a patch of random plants, most were large weeds and tufty bits of grass. As I started to remove the overgrown weeds I noticed three little plants underneath. 

They were not green, it seemed like the weeds had smothered the sunlight from them. As I began to clear more and more I realised they were lavender plants. All three of them were rooted into the ground but they had been in very shallow soil. I carefully re-dug a hole around each of them and pushed them deeper and topped them up with some more soil. I gave them a well needed drink of water and began to water then every day. 

If you come to my house now, you will see three bright green, purple flowering lavender plants that have been resurrected from their smothered beginnings. Their fragrance is beautiful. I couldn’t help thinking about about how these plants had had a new lease of life because their environment had been transformed.

Thinking about transformation made me think about one of my favourite Saints, Mary Magdalene who we celebrate and remember today. Mary’s life was transformed when she encountered Jesus, He healed her from seven demons that were inside her, we can only imagine what illness and distress she may had been suffering before she felt the healing touch of Jesus. Like the lavender in my garden, the weeds and things that were hindering and smothering Mary’s life were removed, her environment was transformed and she began to blossom and grow.

Mary’s liberation freed her to follow and serve Jesus she travelled around with a group of women who had also felt the liberating healing of Jesus. They travelled with the disciples, however we do not get to hear much about her journey during Jesus’s day to day ministry. 

Her close connection with her Lord was one that led her into the shadow of the cross, into the agony and despair of the crucifixion. Mary did not scatter like the disciples, or deny knowing Jesus, she handled His wounded body and mourned at the tomb. She portrayed a visible tangible ministry of her own, a bringer of resurrection joy. 

Her story of her encounter with Jesus, His healing and resurrection inside her heart, is powerful, so powerful that she was the one to witness His actual resurrection first. 

As she stood weeping outside the tomb, her heart that once was filled with joy and hope is muted. She bends down to peer inside the tomb, as if to hope that the missing body of her Lord was just a figment of her imagination, that when she looks inside again that she would glance His precious body once again.

It’s her hope in the resurrection she had felt herself that leads her to the actual revelation of the Jesus’ resurrection. She sees the angels and they ask her why she is weeping, Mary continues her loyalty to her Lord and wishes to know where His body is.
She turns around and saw Jesus standing there but mistakes Him as the gardener. 

I love how Mary thinks that Jesus is the gardener, it’s so symbolic that the man who had nurtured her, who had removed all the weeds that were suffocating her life, the man who had resurrected her heart and re-planted her was now stood in front her being described as a gardener.

Like the lavender in my garden, Mary explodes, blossoms once again in overwhelming joy, calling Jesus teacher. Now Mary’s Lord, her teacher gives her final instruction, Jesus says,
“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

When Mary reaches out for Jesus she knows she would love to stay in this moment with Him forever, however her joy that is being felt is meant to be shared. Jesus tells Mary to go and share this resurrection joy with His brothers, this is her job to do. She bears the good news to the ones who were seen as the good news bearers.

So how does Mary’s story interact with us here in Rochdale?

Well for many different reasons each of us are here at church this morning. At some point in our lives Jesus has met with us and we have felt that resurrection joy, we have seen Him when we thought He was someone else, maybe in the face of someone who helped us in need, maybe in the silence of crippling grief, maybe in a helping hand to escape from a situation that was causing us harm.

We hold these stories of the resurrection of our heart, and like Mary we hear the voice of Jesus telling us to go, to go and tell our brothers and sisters about Him. We would like to hold on to Him and make Him ours and ours alone but this is a joy that we have to share. There are people around us that are lost and awash in sadness and have no feelings of hope. Jesus tells us to not to cling on to our personal joy but let go and tell everyone the same announcement that Mary said to the disciples.

I have seen the Lord.

And typically they did not believe her at first and she waits to see the resurrection joy transform their hearts.
Resurrection joy comes in many forms, but when we see it we say,

I have seen the Lord.

When I look at the beauty of my lavender plants that greet me every time I leave my house and when I return I look at them and remember that, 

I have seen the Lord.

That our faithful gardener continues to re-plant us and make our roots stronger, He clears away the things that are smothering our lives so we can be in a deeper relationship with Him, so we can feel the sun on our faces, the blessings that He pours over us. 
And all of this resurrection joy, this resurrection message of the heart is given to us from Mary Magdalene, the one who followed Jesus through the joys and the pains. The woman who stood at the foot of the cross and cradled His lifeless body who became the first to share the resurrection promise. 

This week I pray that we may have a moment where we can think back and say, I have seen the Lord, and let our faithful Gardener begin to nurture and tend to us once again.