I think I like to garden, but I don't have the green thumb that my grandma had. Somehow she could make anything grow and thrive in her garden. She had a vegetable garden and flowers everywhere. If she saw wildflowers on the side of the road or at an abandoned house, she would get out her shovel, dig them up, and successfully transplant them to her yard. She loved to get her hands dirty.
Unlike me, grandma didn't wear gardening gloves. She didn't even take her wedding ring off. Instead she would kneel down in the grass with her little shovel, watering can, and the flats of plants and flowers and dig. As she played in the dirt, she would hum and sweat and smile. There were two places my grandma was happiest...her kitchen and the garden.
My grandma's hands were not soft; I don't know that she'd ever had a manicure. Her hands were cracked and worn and old. They were the hands of someone who worked hard out of necessity and love.
When Mary Magdalene goes to the garden tomb, the angels ask her "why are you weeping". She is alone and deeply grieved. She had stood at the foot of the cross and watched as her friend and teacher was crucified. She is scared and probably very overwhelmed.
And when a voice calls out her name, she doesn't recognize it at first; she mistakenly thinks that Jesus is the gardener. Why this may be is a bit of a mystery and puzzle. But that's part of what Easter is all about--the glorious mystery of the resurrection.
Just recently I finished reading the book "Pastrix" by the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. In the chapter titled "Dirty Fingernails", Nadia writes about Easter as a story of "flesh and dirt and bodies and confusion". She writes that perhaps the reason Mary doesn't recognize Jesus is because he "still had the dirt from his own tomb under his nails...that the God of Easter is a God with dirt under his nails".
This idea of Jesus with dirt under his nails changed the whole way I looked at this passage from John. Perhaps Jesus at the empty tomb is not how artists have depicted him--glowing white from head to toe with perfect hair illuminated by a halo--perhaps he was humming, sweating and smiling, with cracked, worn hands that had worked out of necessity and love. And maybe Mary saw Jesus as a
gardener because in many ways that's who he is...caring for our tender roots, nourishing us, loving us, and encouraging us to grow. Resurrection is after all about new life.
Resurrection living--new life--is messy. It requires that we forgive those who might not "deserve" forgiveness. It requires that we apologize when we have offended or hurt another. It requires letting go of unmet expectations, material desires, and past wounds. Resurrection living is also about sharing our hopes and dreams with others, and how God is merciful and faithful. Resurrection living is all about Jesus playing in the dirt in order to give us new life--again and again and again.
For the first time in several years, I have allowed myself to really be present to the season of Lent and be prepared for today and Holy Week. It’s easy to be distracted by the everyday things of school, grocery shopping, house cleaning, insurance claims, budgets, and office tasks. It’s easy to allow our attention to be diverted because if we are really present to Jesus’s call to us, then it might be too hard to say “yes”. To be really present means to see not only those who are broken around us--the homeless, the addicted, the unemployed and under-employed--but it also means we have to come face to face with our own brokenness. It means going to the garden with Jesus and finding ourselves unable to stay awake.
All of Lent for me has been framed by the phrase “Wondrous Love”. Those of us who gathered for the Lenten study this year explored the wondrous love of Jesus through the raising of Lazarus, the entry into Jerusalem, the washing of feet, the last supper, the betrayal of Judas, and the crucifixion. In art and scripture, we explored the tenderness and love that Jesus had for his friends and followers, the broken in body and spirit, and his journey to the cross. Even our final gathering--Gabriella’s sharing of her trip to the Working Boys Center in Ecuador--was an example of the wondrous love of Jesus. Gabriella’s ability to witness the transformative power of love in the lives of the poor will forever guide her in her service to others in the world.
It is this same wondrous love that makes today such a paradox. As Jay Cooper Rochelle explains, “This day is like a door. As it opens outward, there is joy and singing and loud exultation. Jesus comes in, amidst cheering and applause….When the door closes, we see that Jesus must now remain locked inside the room of his final week, where the singing will turn to silence and the cheers to shouts of ‘Crucify him’”. What does it mean--in the pits of our stomachs-- when we stand up and say “Crucify him”? Can you feel it? What does it mean that Cody--a teenager--read the part of Jesus? Can you hear the voices of the broken-hearted and forgotten?
If we truly believe that we are called to seek and serve Christ in others, then how do we treat Jesus? Would we wash his feet? Would we deny him and stand in the shadows? Would we criticize, taunt and rebuke him? Would we have the courage and strength to stand at the foot of the cross and wait for his broken body to be let down for burial?
When we gathered today, we entered into kairos time--God’s time. You can’t mark God’s time on a clock; it’s fluid. God’s time is an opportunity to reflect on the wondrous love we’ve been given, to acknowledge our brokenness, and to be open to transformation. We will remain in kairos time this whole week, journeying to the cross and finally celebrating the resurrection with Jesus. It is our opportunity to confess, be healed and celebrate. This is our Christian life together.
When we recognize the wondrous love of Holy Week, then saying “yes” to following Jesus--while still scary--can be liberating. Jesus is patient and kind. He calls us to reflect and confess--not give in to the anxiety of the world, or be distracted by the everyday. He calls us to break bread, to share a holy feast, and experience his most wondrous love.
Let us pray.
Jesus, your love is broken open among cheering crowds and traitor’s coins, deserting friends and hands washed clean, the mockery of power and the baying mob: as we follow your way of passion, give us the faith to bring our weak and divided hearts to the foot of the cross and the door of the guarded tomb that they might be opened, astonished and healed; through Jesus Christ, the giver of most wondrous love. Amen.
(adapted from: Prayers for an inclusive church)
I want to begin with a prayer titled “A Time for Tears”
Their time must be found.
Their time must be allowed.
Their time must come, no longer dry.
You must let them approach, let them in.
Let them in.
Let them roam.
Let them have their way.
They will come slowly,
sweeping over you like a gentle mist,
gently covering every hurt, every burden,
every little matter that before was dry.
Let them come.
Let them come.
They will come like an angel
softly touching all those places never before trespassed.
They will come with a purpose and intended meaning,
like the father on his way to help and comfort his child.
Let them come in full, running over.
They will come like a torrent of healing water,
reaching your soul’s driest places.
The gift of tears is powerful, healing,
among God’s finest gifts.
This gift has the ability to make all things hurtful
fall to a place of clarity and proportion.
As you welcome this gift, life is renewed,
the sting of heartache is soothed.
Like salve for the soul, healing and refreshing.
Let them come.
Let them come.
The gift of holy tears brings
the potential for new beginnings.
Begin anew often.
Let tears be your companion.
Allow your tears their time.
All them entrance to the secret places never before explored.
Allow them to do their intended work with no fear.
Let them come.
Let them come.
Joan T. Broussard
Jesus began to weep.
It isn’t often that I find myself crying anymore. But when I do, it is because I’m deeply moved by anger or fear or deep grief. I’ve become so good at putting my own emotions aside, compartmentalizing my feelings so that I can be present to those in need, that I rarely cry anymore. And that’s not a good thing.
Back in February I took a class on grieving and ritual. I was expecting to learn ways to be present to those in times of grief and crisis. I was expecting to learn debriefing skills for first responders. I was expecting to talk about the dying process. To be honest, I expected that it would be an intellectual exercise about very emotional experiences. It wasn’t. This particular class was an opportunity for people to share their grief. It was an opportunity for those who hold space for everyone else to be able to cry, moan and wail. I was incredibly uncomfortable. I was being invited to be completely vulnerable with people I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to. I was so resistant to the idea of crying in front of others, of sharing and experiencing my own pain and sadness that I fell back into my natural role as listener and holder of space. And so I never cried…not even once.
Jesus began to weep.
Since that weekend, I’ve had to do a lot of writing about that experience and the book we read for our class. I’ve come to realize that my resistance was really fear. I was afraid to cry. I was afraid that if I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I was afraid that someone would think that I was...too fragile...too emotional...too weak...too vulnerable...too imperfect. My fear kept me from experiencing anything that weekend, and so I’m trying to pay more attention now to how I feel in my body.
And then I read “Jesus began to weep” this week and it was like reading it for the first time. Here is Jesus--the one to whom I pray for strength, courage and wisdom--weeping. In this moment he is faced with the death of his friend, and for just a moment instead of being the one to offer consolation to others, he weeps. I find this to be so liberating. In all the things that Jesus faced--the scorn, the accusations, his betrayal and crucifixion--he does with courage, with steadfastness of faith and strength that I could never imagine having to muster. But he also grieves. Somehow in my mind, Jesus weeping makes it ok for me to weep too. In this full expression of his humanity, I have approval to be human too.
But the story of Lazarus isn’t just a story of grief; it’s also about resurrection, new life, or as the poem said “new beginnings”.
In our Lenten study this year, What Wondrous Love, we’ve been reading scripture and meditating with the art of John August Swanson. Our very first gathering was on the raising of Lazarus. In your bulletin you have a copy of a close-up of the image of Jesus calling to Lazarus “Come out, Lazarus”.
The gospel tells us that Mary and Martha have been grieving the loss of their brother Lazarus and waiting for Jesus to arrive. When they explain to Jesus that Lazarus has been dead for four days, Martha warns “already there is a stench”. And yet Jesus calls for the stone to be rolled away.
I think in my childish mind I imagined Lazarus to be a bit like the Mummy from the old black and white movies or Scooby-Doo cartoons. Somehow he just wasn’t very real to me...even as an adult. And I certainly couldn’t imagine Jesus greeting Lazarus the way Swanson has depicted the event.
Look closely and you will notice that Jesus meets him in the doorway of the tomb and embraces him. He even works to remove some of the bandages that Lazarus has been wrapped in. Jesus is not deterred by the stench. Jesus is not afraid. Jesus embraces him and loves him.
As I’ve spent time with this image, one of the things that has come up for me is that if Jesus embraced Lazarus in this moment, how often has he embraced us when we stink? How often has he called to us to come out when we’ve died and been buried? Sometimes it’s easier to ignore that calling voice, roll over and face the wall. For me, that kind of spiritual death is manifested in how easily annoyed, frustrated and exhausted I become. And yet, Jesus called to Lazarus and he calls each one of us to come out of our tombs and experience new life. Chances are, it’ll happen more than once, too.
So this week I invite you to spend some time listening for that call. Know that when you are in pain and sorrow, Jesus weeps with you. And when it’s time for you to be in the world again, Jesus will be there, calling you, embracing you, and removing the bandages from your heartache.
Let us pray.
God of compassion, you call us out of the bindings of death on this, our resurrection day: make us ready to surrender the fear in which we hide to step into your future alive and unashamed; through Jesus Christ, the life of the world. Amen. (Prayers for an inclusive church)
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.