As John 20 begins, three days after Jesus’ death and right before dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene approaches the tomb where her grief has brought her and sees that the stone in front of it has already been rolled away. Thinking there has been a grave robbery, she runs to tell the other disciples. Peter and “the beloved disciple” (whose real name is never told to us) now run to the tomb. The beloved disciple looks in, but Peter actually enters. They both see the same thing – the linen wrappings that covered the body of Jesus are still there, but with no Jesus in them.
Something begins to swell within the beloved disciple, an edge-of-your-seat anticipation that the story is not over after all! The two of them walk back home, minds blown, wondering what will happen next. But Mary remains at the tomb, weeping. Faith and excitement aren’t setting in for her just yet, but she eventually works up the courage to peer into the tomb and sees something that Peter and the other disciple didn’t see: two angels.
“Why are you weeping?” they ask her. “They have taken away my Lord,” she replies, right before sensing someone behind her. It is Jesus himself in the flesh, though she doesn’t recognize him at first. She supposes him to be the gardener.
The gardener? In a way, Mary couldn’t be more wrong. And in another way, she couldn’t be more right.
We’re told at the end of John 19 that Jesus is buried in a garden, and now Jesus is taken to be the one who presides over and cares for that garden. It’s not the first garden in the Bible we’ve spent time in, is it? In John 19, the death of Jesus happens in the language of the Exodus. The sacrificial lamb gives its life in order that the powers that enslave humans may be overthrown and the people of God would walk free. Now as Jesus is buried and raised in a garden, we’re shifting to the language of Genesis. Something new is being breathed into existence, and no serpent will poison it, for the serpent was defeated on the cross. We live in a fundamentally new reality. The world is not what it was a few days earlier, before Jesus died. The resurrection of Jesus isn’t only for Jesus. It is the renewal of all of creation. We’ve come back to a garden where all things are being set in motion by the life-giving Spirit of God.
Are we awake to this? Are we paying attention to all the ways this new creation is unfolding all around us? Scripture speaks constantly about our ability to listen, to watch, to pay attention with both our physical and spiritual senses to what’s going on around us. John chapter 20 is naming our new reality, and we must be able to awaken to it. Of course, there are a lot of days that the world around us feels anything but new. It feels old and broken. But let’s look deeper. Life looks broken when our eyes are only partially opened. But if we’re willing to pay attention, we’ll start to see the whole picture. Like Mary Magdalene, we’ll start to see that Jesus was standing in front of us all along.
New creation is sprouting up everywhere we’re willing to see it. Where fear and addiction lose their grip on us, where marriages are saved from the brink of divorce, where anger and division lose territory to self-giving love – there is new creation.