From the Garden to the City,
Trees along the way
(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg
We have been on a journey from the
garden to the city, noticing the trees along the way. On Friday we
noticed the Christ, the Ram of God caught in a thicket of thorns upon
the cross, a substitute offering for our sin. Today we come to the joy
of the garden.
20 Early on the first day
of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb
and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she
came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus
loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,
and we don’t know where they have put him!”
In order to understand the story of Mary Magdalene, we have to remember where this entire story started. It started 1000s of years earlier in a garden called Eden. God was there, the Father of all humanity. Adam and Eve were there, the representative progenitors of all humanity. Satan, the source of all deception was there. And there were trees witnessing the events of that day. On that fateful day recorded in Genesis 3, Eve beguiled by Satan’s deceptive words did the wrong thing, she saw that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil was good for eating, good for attaining what she had been led to believe was wisdom, and she and her husband ate of it. In that one act she shaped the world for generations to come. She, with the rest of the human race became subject to the tyranny of the devil. Humanity became alienated from their heavenly Father. Suffering became a dominant theme of life. Death became the ultimate end for Eve, for Adam, for their children, for all of creation. This story starts with tragedy. It happened in the Garden. The trees watched and wept. Creation groaned. Agony began.
In this passage, we, the scriptures, return to the garden.
We would expect the main characters of the resurrection to be the disciples. But we are surprised. Besides Christ, the main and first character of the resurrection is Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene was accustomed to being forgotten. She was is not mentioned in the gospels until the passion narrative. She had at one point the negative reputation of having been tyrannized by seven demons. People with demons in that culture did not easily earn the respect of others - they were seen as broken, defiled, unclean people especially since often demons were associated with unchastity. In her culture, she would have been a woman of ill repute, shunned by most, forgotten if possible. She knew the experience of having her name tossed on the trash heap.
In line with the identification of Mary of Magdela as a women of ill repute, the western church in its commentary of scripture for years has identified her with the nameless sinful woman who loved much because she was forgiven much.
We know also that Jesus delivered her from those 7 demons and though reputations don't die quickly, Mary's response for Jesus was one of quiet, mostly unnoticed love and service. She became a small part of the family of God. We know that Mary’s discipleship involved mostly providing for the physical and financial needs of Jesus and the disciples. We know she followed him even to the point of being with Jesus Mother at the foot of the cross. But outside of the passion and resurrection story, her name is not mentioned.
She watched the agonies of the crucifixion, she saw the spear pierce his side, the blood and water flow demonstrating his death - she knew he was dead. Out of love for the teacher that had given her life - she was one of the ones who came to anoint Jesus Body with perfume after he died. Certainly with his death, she felt lost again. Certainly with his death, she felt like she had become a nobody again. Like so many of the disciples, she felt like her future was lost.
And certainly she was not a model of faith. The scriptures in Luke 24:1-11 tell us that she alone with Joanna, Mary the Mother of James were the first to go see the tomb. She heard the angels say these words:
"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again." Then they remembered his words." Luke 24:5b - 8
But after running to tell the disciples when she returned, she still did not believe. Seeing the empty tomb and then meeting the man she thought was the gardener who asked
“Women, why are you crying?”
She could only conclude that some mischief had happened to the body of Jesus. She responded:
"They have taken the Lord out of
the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him."
Once again Jesus asked her:
Still not believing, she said
Why did God make this mostly faithless, broken, forgotten and grieving women the first and primary character of the resurrection?
Why - because with this story God
is starting over again.
The original story starts with wholeness that led to brokenness, the new story starts with brokenness and leads to wholeness.
The whole story starts with the devil winning the battle by deception, the new story starts with Christ winning the victory.
The whole story started with the bringing of the curse and of death into the world, this new story starts with the blessing to the garden and bringing of eternal life into the world.
Now there is one theme here that I must conclude with. In this passage it cannot be avoided. You remember in the original story, it was Eve who was deceived. It was Eve who first took of the fruit. It was Eve whose name lives in infamy, as the one who took humanity with creation down. And it seems that history in focusing on Eve has called her less, wanting to disregard her, forget her, make her less in every person of the female gender.
And so among the 12 male disciples, she is never mentioned as one even with them. Disregarded. Forgotten. Even with Eve, blamed.
Jesus, seeing Mary's grief, her broken hope, her inability to believe - Jesus said one word to her
Her name - just her name was all that was needed to break through floods of grief, canyons of despair, universes of hopelessness.
The one person in this world, Jesus, that had welcomed her, that had delivered her from her ill repute, the one that accepted her, that gave her a family to belong to told her he was back with just her name.
Her response was instant - she fell at his feet and cried out "Rabboni" or teacher - and she grabbed hold of him as if she wanted him never to leave again.
Jesus said "Mary" - and the word gave her life again. Jesus told her not to hold onto him like that - it was not that necessary - he wasn't about to leave yet - it would be some 40 days yet before he would return to be with his Father in the fullness of his glory.
But he had a message for her - he is alive and she was still loved, she was important, accepted and valued in the family of God, just like every other male and female, just like every other disciple. His Father was her Father, his God was her God, the rupture in relationship that happened in the fall in the garden was restored in the cross and affirmed once again in the garden. She belonged and never again would she be nameless.
Has a very practical application. So often among God’s people, Jesus disciples are those who are hardly noticed. They are not strong in faith and sometimes they have a spotted history. And if they stay or they leave, they wonder if the church would even notice. They hardly feel like they belong. And maybe by this world’s standards, they don’t.
Do you hear the word of the Lord on this resurrection day? He is alive! He is alive today and he calls you by name. Even though he was the Lord of the universe, he determines the number of all the stars and remembers them each by name, who had conquered sin and death, Jesus knows your name, he calls you be name, he raises you from the dust, because you are part of his family.
He arose so that you might rejoice and dance and sing Hallelujah - so that each of us might know that he lives because he lives in our hearts - so that each of us might know we are loved because his Father has become our Father. Together we are family, no one forgotten, each of us equal before our Lord. That is one of the reasons we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together - because before God, we are all one, one family, equally blessed, equally part of the family of God.
Do you hear his voice today - calling your name?
the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.