We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Easter, March 31, 2024

“Noli me tangere” Antonio Correggio (CA. 1525)

In the beginning, the Lord God formed a man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into that man’s nostrils the breath of life, and so the man became a human being.  And then, the Lord God planted a garden in Eden. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, a river to water the garden, and God put the man there to till the garden and to care for it.  The Garden of Eden was so inviting that God would walk there in the cool of the evening breeze, reveling in the beauty of the garden.    

Since the beginning of time, gardens have provided sustenance, beauty and inspiration. 

Those blessed enough to have a garden witness the ways in which the garden changes through the seasons. 

They’ve tilled the ground, watched with an amazement the new growth springing up from the seeds they have planted.   Gardeners harvest,  and then when the plants are spent and dead, they put the garden to bed to rest for the winter.  And then the gardener waits, the seasons change, and it’s time to till and to plant again. 

Gardens have always been places of death and resurrection. 

That first man, blessed to live in the Garden of Eden, could not simply live there, reveling in its blessings and beauty, but ended up putting himself above God, and sin came into the garden.  God sent the man and the woman out of the Garden so that they would not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. 

And so death came into the world. 

Now we come to this happy morning, this day of Jesus’ resurrection, the day that love comes again, like wheat that springeth green, the day that we return to the garden. 

Scripture tells us that there was a garden in the place that Jesus was crucified, and in the garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.  And so Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid the body of Jesus there.  A large stone sealed the door of the tomb. 

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene started out in the darkness and made her way to the garden, and found that the tomb was empty.

After the other disciples had left, Mary stayed behind, weeping. 

She looked into the tomb again, and this time saw two angels and they asked her why she was weeping. 

And then she turned and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  She thought that Jesus was the gardener. 

I love this part of the story, because it turns out that Jesus really is a gardener, bringing new life out of death.  I wonder if Mary remembered Jesus saying earlier about himself that unless a seed falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.  Jesus went to his death, but now……

Jesus is alive! 

Even though he was crucified, died, and was buried, on the third day he has risen.    

Now the garden is full of life again, new life, but this new life is not simply a return to the old life that Jesus had shared with the disciples before his death and resurrection. 

Mary is having to part with her old teacher, because now he is her risen Lord. 

She cannot hold on to the old relationship that she had with her teacher, for Jesus is growing into his new resurrected life, life that will now be at the side of his Father.  He is ascending to his Father.

Although she will only come to fully understand this later, Jesus is opening for Mary the way of everlasting life.  Jesus is going to prepare a place for her, as he had told his disciples he would.  Jesus had said to them, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” 

Mary’s mortal body, made of dust, and to dust it will return, will be made new and alive again, for Jesus prepares for Mary an eternal dwelling place with him. 

Mary will continue to be part of the resurrected life of Jesus, in a different, but a richer, more verdant lifegiving relationship with her Lord.

The promise for us in this resurrection story is that because of the resurrection, we too will be in a richer, more verdant lifegiving, abundant relationship with our Lord, starting this moment. 

Jesus is the gardener who tends to us.  We are like the  seeds that Jesus plants and tends.  Jesus tends us, helps us to spring up with new life, to bear much fruit, to spend ourselves, to die back, to rest, and then to spring up bearing fruit in the next growing season of our lives. 

We grow, die, and grow again throughout our lives.  When Jesus is our gardener, we can trust that what we do in our lives will have everlasting positive impact, though we may not be able to see that impact in our lifetimes.  When we feel weak and worn out, Jesus tends to us and raises us in power. 

And the longer we live, with Jesus tending us, the more we will grow into his likeness.  As the Apostle Paul puts it, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.”  Jesus, in taking away our sins, guilt and death, invites us to eat from the Tree of Life itself. 

And if we let Jesus tend to us, we will day by day find that we are growing into newer, fuller, holier people, bearing the fruits of God’s love even in dry and barren land where there is no water. 

We may even grow into gardeners ourselves, tending and caring for others, as Jesus has tended us. 

We can be the gardeners who create welcoming places for the sad and lonely, the dismayed and the heartbroken, the people who wander aimlessly and without hope. 

When we remember that our eternal dwelling place is with God, we will do what we can to prepare God’s dwelling place with us while we are in this life, to care for the earth, to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, to care for the rivers that water the earth, to till the earth with love, to make it so inviting that when the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, and our work is done, and we rest, laying down both our disappointments and our successes, we will hear our Risen Lord and Savior walking in the cool of the evening breeze, and we can run to meet him, full of joy and alleluias for the risen life that has no end.