Text edited by Ian Wyllie from notes provided by Revd Vanessa. We are starting to explore sharing talks in different ways in response to congregation requests. The way this happens will likely change as we gather more material. Not checked against delivery.
The gospel passage from John that I read this morning is one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament for me. John takes us on a journey, from despair to hope, from, literally and symbolically, darkness to light. There is passion, confusion, isolation and redemption all in just a few short lines of text.
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
And it all takes place in a garden. We read in the previous chapter of John how there was a garden in the place of crucifixion, and a tomb in that garden where Nicodemeus and Joseph of Arimetheia, have placed the body of Jesus.
The symbolic references are clear: Adam and Eve may have been expelled from a garden, Jesus may have agonised and been betrayed in the garden of Gethsemane, but here, in the garden where he died, he will also be resurrected, and Mary’s desolation will turn to consolation, through her interaction with the ultimate gardener..
So I invite you to choose a seed from the dish coming round. Hold it in your fingers, look carefully at it, as if you have never seen a seed before. Notice the colour variations, the differences in size, shape and look perhaps from that of your neighbour.
What do you notice about it? Does it look promising? If you were an alien from another planet, and had never seen a seed before, what would you think? Its dry, and dormant, isn’t it? Who would think that anything would come from this, let alone anything might grow and develop into something either beautiful, nutritious, or both?
And this is where we are at the beginning of this passage from John. Fear and despair has shrivelled the friends of Jesus, they are cold, hiding away in darkness. It doesn’t seem possible that anything good could now spring from this situation. Jesus too is in darkness, buried in the tomb, the weight of the stone covering the entrance just as the weight of the earth presses on top of the tiny seeds underneath.
But transformation comes through Mary. Despite her despair and confusion, she simply will not stop loving Jesus, and taking a huge risk, she goes down to the tomb in the darkness of the early morning. Finding the tomb empty, she fetches the other disciples, but while they return home in their confusion, she remains, broken.
And it is her tears of brokenness that germinate the dormant seed of her faith. The experience of Christ reaching out in compassion to those who are in the very depths of desolation is a common one, the depths of pain is often matched by the depth of compassion.
Mary meets someone whom she initially supposes to be the gardener. And, in fact she is right… Christ is the ultimate gardener. Christ is the one who shapes us, who provides the conditions for our faith to grown, and for each one of us to flourish as human beings. But providing the right conditions is not the same as doing the actual growing. It is up to us to push through the soil towards the light, up to us to struggle and wrestles with issues of faith and life, but in the light of the knowledge of love and that we are free, forgiven and redeemed.
Each one of us are different though. We are each unique, just as these seeds are all unique, we need different conditions, some more water, some less, we have different types of soil to struggle though. And although I’m sure the clever gardeners among you can identify the seeds you have chosen, in general, we don’t really know how we might blossom and flourish when Christ the gardener gets to work – we may be fragrant or nutritious, fast growing beans or sturdy oaks but whatever, we are beautiful in the sight of God.