With their reassuring and predictable regularity, the seasons are turning. Spring has sprung, and with it we see signs of new life. Daffodils have broken through and bloomed again, new leaves are emerging on trees and the days are becoming longer and warmer. For the last 12 months, I’ve worked at home, ensconced in our dining room and looking out on our back garden, measuring the year through the changing appearance of the flowers and plants within it.
I’ve sometimes wondered if the sense of connection with nature we feel as we watch and tend to our changing gardens is a reflection of a deeper, spiritual truth. Scripture begins with an account of creation that describes God delighting in each step of an unfolding process.
Day one: light! Day two: sky! Day three: land and sea! So the first week goes on, and God, content with his labours, sees that it is all good. The pinnacle of the creation story is, of course, the creation of humans themselves, male and female made in his image and given a mandate to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’, joining in the on-going process of creation by continuing the work of bringing order to the world. In Genesis 2, we are told of the specific part of creation which is to be tended by Adam and Eve: ‘Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed’ (Genesis 2:8).
As we all know, it doesn’t take long for the perfection of this creation to be lost. Chapter 3 of Genesis describes the Fall, bringing with it a multiple breakdown and disordering of relationships. Men and women will now jostle for position with one another and working the land becomes a tiresome and wearying chore. The chapter ends on another note of loss, with Adam and Eve, clothed and ashamed, banished from the garden. ‘After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life’ (Genesis 3:24).
This is the moment of loss, the great disruption, the introduction of death and rebellion which cast a long shadow over the many chapters of the Old Testament, until a moment, thousands of years later, when the curse is lifted.
The scene of this wonderful reversal is telling. John’s Gospel records for us the burial of Jesus which takes place on the evening of Good Friday:
At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid’ (John 19:41).
It is to this same garden that Mary Magdalene returns on Easter morning. Instead of cherubim guarding the way to the tree of life, we are told of two angels seated in the place where Jesus body had been and when she first sees the risen Lord she mistakes him for a gardener.
Her confusion is a poignant and very human detail in this wonderful story.
Perhaps I am reading too much into this moment, but I am reminded of how the first Adam was a gardener, tending Eden at the time of the first creation. And now Mary looks on Jesus, the Second Adam, walking in the garden on the first day of the week, the first day of a new creation. What had changed on that morning was about more than just one empty tomb. As Paul would later write, this was the beginning of God’s new rule in the world, a work of transformation and change made real in the life of everyone who comes to know Jesus:
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I am sure that none of us would have imagined ourselves celebrating another Easter in lockdown, but my prayer for each of us as we look out on our gardens on the first Sunday of this month is that we will see there more than just the seasonal growth of budding leaves and blooming flowers. May we also be reminded of the first creation which ushered in Eden, and the second creation made possible by the empty garden tomb.
This has been a year the pandemic has reminded all of us, in one way or another, of all that was lost in the fall, the un-ravelling of Eden’s perfection. We have experienced loneliness and isolation, some of us have faced financial hardship and uncertainty and, tragically, a number of us have suffered the most terrible loss of all. But the risen Jesus has been with us in all of this. He knows what it is to suffer but he is more than the man of sorrows. His resurrection is the first of many more to come:
‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive’ (1 Corin-thians 15:22).
May we know his resurrection power in a new way, giving us strength, hope and courage in the days and months ahead.
Wishing you God’s grace and peace