John 20:11-15

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

John, as we’ve seen at various points, is a master storyteller, skilled at weaving together imagery and symbol to create a powerful drama. He is also, as we’ve discussed before, particularly interested in extending the story of Israel to include God’s ongoing and climactic activity in Jesus.

Actually, he’s doing more than just extending the story, he’s actually retelling it. Indeed, for this reason, John starts his master work with the same line that begins the whole of the Bible, “In the beginning…”, inviting his readers to imagine that he is telling a new Genesis, a new story of God’s creation.

John returns to that theme here, placing – alone among the Evangelists – the story of Jesus’ resurrection in a garden. This isn’t the first time a garden has been mentioned in John’s account. Jesus’ arrest also took place in a garden (again, he is the only evangelist to share that detail). Both references to gardens are meant to call to mind the original garden, Eden. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, he proves himself faithful where his forebear Adam fell. Rather than deny or even pray to avoid the cup of cross and suffering before him, Jesus demands that it be given to him and protects his disciples to the end.

Now in this scene, we realize Jesus is buried – or, actually, was raised from death – in a garden when Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. All of this calls to mind once again the garden of Eden, where God first created. In this garden, and on this first day of a new week, God is now re-creating, starting all things new.

It’s an interesting scene, when you slow down to read it closely. Jesus is there to offer Mary comfort, asking why she weeps and on the verge of sharing news that will turn her grief to joy. Yet she mistakes him for the gardener. Perhaps this isn’t as much a matter of mistaken identity as we might think. Or perhaps, as if often the case in John’s Gospel, it is an ironic mistake that has significance beyond what we might imagine. For in one sense Jesus is the Gardener, the one in and through whom God creates again, raising him to new life and promising a new relationship with all God’s people and, indeed, the redemption of the world.

Prayer: Dear God, let us remember on Sundays and everyday your act of new creation by which you made it possible for each and all of us to have a fresh start with you and with each other. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Post image: “The Garden of Eden,” by Thomas Cole (c. 1828).