But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”–and that he had said these things to her. –John 4:11-18
What a fascinating and unexpected passage! Angels who talk, a crucified man who lives, and a woman of questionable repute are the characters of this passage. The angels didn’t seem to be there when John and Peter visited to the tomb. Perhaps they were but only visible through the tears of grief Mary was shedding. They ask a plain question and her answer is as poignant as it is plain, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” I feel a little jealous that I don’t get to express that kind of selfless, unpretentious yearning.
Then she says what I’m tempted to skip over as incidental detail. She supposes him to be the gardener. We all know she was wrong and it was an honest mistake given the circumstances. But on another level—perhaps a better level, she was right. This is the new creation and Jesus is the beginning of it. When Pilate said, “Behold the man!” I suspect he was far more correct than he could ever realize. Behold the new Adam, the gardener of the great garden of God. He brings shalom to the chaos of God’s creation. He uproots thorns that the cypress may come up; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.
Make no mistake, for this Gardener, even the trees will clap their hands. That’s quite a gardener, and that’s the gospel!
Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!