Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sermon: John 20: 11-18 Garden Transformation

This morning I want to share with you a little sadness that I’ve been carrying for a long time now. I went to Wallace High School in Lisburn, and Wallace have never won the Schools’ Cup in rugby. In our final year at school, we made it to the semi-final, only to lose in the last few minutes. Every few years, the team have a good run, my hopes rise, and I start to think - maybe this year. We even made it to the final one year, I went along specially to cheer on the team. And... we lost. Ravenhill is a place of sadness, loss, disappointment. Now imagine if next year was our year - we went to Ravenhill and finally won the Cup - the setting would be transformed; it would mean something very different.

In our two readings today, you might have noticed some similarities. It’s not so much a tale of two cities as a tale of two gardens. In the first garden (Eden), Adam and Eve, the first people, live in paradise. God saw all he had made and it was very good. They want for nothing, they have the world to explore; they have everything they need. You know the story - Eve listens to the serpent, eats the forbidden fruit, and before the end of the chapter, Adam and Eve are cowering in the bushes when God comes for his evening stroll. They listened to the creation, rather than obeying the Creator - they rebelled against the only command he had given; and so they hide.

What is it God says, as he comes walking? ‘Where are you?’ Sin causes separation - both between Adam and Eve, and between us and God. One of the consequences of that first sin was that Adam and Eve were removed from God’s paradise. You know that the world isn’t a paradise - heaven isn’t a place on earth - you don’t need to live very long to realise that. Every day we face the effects of the fall - from weeds in the garden to family struggles and everything in between.

We have this sin problem that we need dealt with - and we can’t do it ourselves. ‘Where are you?’

You see, even when we turn away from God, he comes after us. He searches for us, wants to bring us back to him. He describes himself as the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep. And in the end up, God takes on our human flesh - Jesus becomes man, enters our world, in order to come looking for us. Jesus came to rescue us from our sin.

In order to save us from our sin, though, Jesus went and died on the cross. He paid the penalty our sins deserved, and on that first Good Friday, Jesus died and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. But keep in mind that first garden as we turn to the second. You see, Jesus died on the Friday, was buried hurriedly on the Friday evening before the Sabbath began at sunset.

In our second reading, we find the events of that first Easter Sunday morning. Mary arrives at the tomb, and discovers that the tomb is empty. She ran and told Peter and John, but once they have been to the tomb, they go home again. Mary is left. She had followed Jesus, along with some other women. She had been cleansed of seven demons by Jesus.

And so she stays close by his tomb, in this garden. Just as Ravenhill could be the place of transformation for Wallace rugby, so this garden is the place of transformation - not just for Mary, but for each of us; in something much more important than a piece of silverware and some school pride.

In the first garden, God came looking in the evening, asking ‘where are you?’ In this garden, Mary comes looking in the dawn, asking ‘where is he?’ Watch as Mary looks into the tomb (11). She’s weeping, and she sees two angels, sitting in the grave cave. They ask why she is weeping, and she tells them: ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Where is he?

Do you see that she still thinks Jesus is dead? I don’t know where they have laid him - someone has obviously come and moved the body, Jesus must still be dead, lying in some other tomb, or some other place. Where is he?

As she turns around, she sees a man, standing in the garden. Again she’s asked: ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Mary doesn’t realise who it is she’s talking to - she reckons it’s the gardener, and again she launches into the where is he routine: ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Where is he?

With that, Jesus utters one word. Her name. Mary. Instantly, she recognises him. She realises that he has been in front of her the whole time. That he hasn’t been laid anywhere, because he isn’t dead any more. Jesus is alive - risen to life, so that he will never again die. She bursts out with that ‘Teacher’, and obviously rushes to embrace him, to show her devotion to her Lord, now risen.

In the place of disappointment, defeat and death, Mary finds life, and hope. No more tears, only joy; no more sadness, only smiles. The garden is the place of transformation - as the events of the first garden are overturned and restoration is begun.

That’s what the risen Lord Jesus’ message means: ‘But go to my brothers and say to them: ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hid; they were separated from God, cut off from his presence. In the garden of the tomb, Jesus says that his followers are now part of the family; they’re welcomed in; they’re no longer separated. The Father is ‘My Father and your Father’; God is ‘my God and your God.’

The transformation is seen in the experience of Mary that day - she went weeping to the tomb expecting to find a dead Jesus; she returned excited and overjoyed, having found a living Lord as she announced: ‘I have seen the Lord.’ Everything has been changed, because Jesus is alive.

I wonder which of the two gardens is your story today? You might be cut off, far from God, fearful of him, rebelling against him. The loss of that first garden is where each of us start from - we feel the pain of paradise lost. Please don’t just stop there.

Come with Mary to the second garden; discover for yourself that Jesus is alive - and how that changes everything. Your sins have been dealt with; the separation has been stopped; God’s open arms are outstretched to welcome you in. Eden is not the end of God’s story - don’t let it be the end of yours. Paradise lost is paradise restored through the death and resurrection of Jesus, as we look forward to life with Jesus in the new creation, the new creation which began in that new garden on the third day, which was also the first day of the week.

While it would give me some happiness if Wallace could return to Ravenhill and lift the Schools Cup; it is of no importance and no significance compared to the greatest joy I know - of introducing people to the risen Jesus and celebrating with them as they move from death to life; defeat to victory; despair to hope. God still asks that first question: Where are you?


  1. I dunno, 17 March 1994 was a pretty joyful day for me... mind you, I went to Regent :D

  2. i am so blessed through this sermon