A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (65:17-25)
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
Psalm (118:1-2, 14-24)
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”
14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:
16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”
17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (15:19-26)
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (20:1-18)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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 Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because 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 she told them that he had said these things to her.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Maybe Mary had it right the first time. Maybe it was the gardener whom she had met beside the tomb that morning.
To put it mildly, life had not been easy for Mary, growing up and living in the village of Magdala, beside the Sea of Galilee. She had always been different from most other people. There was something always troubling her, tormenting her. Today we might attribute it to some sort of physical or mental or emotional problem; but at that time, people simply said that it must have been a demon.
No one had been able to help her. No one had been able to give her peace of mind. Some of the older women in the town had told her to look to God for help. But God was so hard to find.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t looked. It wasn’t that she hadn’t embraced her faith and lived as a faithful Jewish girl and then a young woman. She had. In fact, she loved the old stories told in the Torah as well as the popular variations and expansions on them that circulated among her people. And she tried to practice their teaching as best she could.
Among her favorite passages was the second of the two great creation stories told in the book of Genesis. That was the one that begins with the earth, barren and lifeless, with only a stream, welling up and watering the ground. Then God reached down with God’s hands and took some of the earth and made an earthling, breathing into that new being God’s own life. But that new creature needed a place to live; so God, working as a gardener, “planted a garden in Eden, in the east.” That image stuck with her: God as the Great Gardener.
Mary loved gardens. She loved walking through the flowered hills beside the lake, especially this time of year, in spring, looking at all the marvelous array of sizes and shapes and colors, smelling the sweet fragrance of the flowers and flowering trees, listening to the rustle of the grasses blown by the gentle wind. Here she could find some peace, some healing, some wholeness, at least for a time. But she longed for a peace that would stay with her, for a healing that would last.
In that sense, she was just like the rest of the people she knew. They, too, were looking for deliverance from their struggles, their sufferings, their oppression by the occupying foreign armies and by life in general. And, like them, she knew that that deliverance, that healing would have to come from God — and that, someday, it would come from God. But when; or, as the psalmist repeatedly asked, “How long, O Lord?”
Then one day she heard people talking about a new teacher, a man named Jesus who came from Nazareth. He, they said, was different from all the other traveling teachers of the time. There was something special about him: something intangible, something that made you feel the presence of God, as though God were somehow in him, reaching out and touching you.
It wasn’t long before she had her chance to find out for herself. Word went around that this Jesus was now teaching in and around Capernaum, just a few miles from Magdala. “He’s become friends with the sons of Jonah and Zebedee, who moor their fishing boats there,” they told her. “Just ask. Everybody in Capernaum knows them.” And so she went.
Sure enough, there he was, teaching from one of the boats. He wasn’t that impressive physically; but they were right: there was something very special about him. Just listening to him you could somehow feel the presence of God, the Great Gardener she had been waiting for and praying for. He was even talking about the kind of places that she loved: “Look at the lilies of the field… Look at the birds of the air.” And then, after he had come ashore, she had the chance to meet him in person. There was something that was powerfully healing in the way that he looked at he; it seemed that he somehow looked deep inside of her. Then he spoke her name: “Mary.” And when he did, she knew even then that she had found the way to God, the way to the life for which she had been searching.
Over the next couple of years, she had become one of his followers. She traveled along with other women who believed in him and supported him: Joanna and Susanna and another Mary, the mother of James. Their faith in him grew, but so did their fear. His teaching, like that of the prophets who had come before him, put him at odds with their civil and religious leaders. The tension continued to build; and, although they did not want to admit it, they knew that it was going to reach a breaking point.
That had finally happened last week. Their leaders had had enough. They had decided that he had to die, and they were willing to stop at nothing to make that happen. And so they had brought him up before the Roman procurator on trumped-up charges. The Romans put him through a brief trial, then had him tortured and crucified, just as they had done with so many others before him. It had all happened so fast, and there was nothing that she or anyone else could have done to stop it.
Now all her hopes and those of many other people had been shattered. The unthinkable had happened. The one who had brought them into the very presence of God was dead. The one whom they had come to regard as God’s Anointed, the Messiah, had been killed like a common criminal – and killed in such a horrific way.
Where was God? Where was the One who had planted that first garden so long ago; who ultimately had made possible all the gardens of the earth; who, the prophets said, would make the garden of truth and righteousness spring up for all the world? Jesus was dead, and all their hope had died with him.
Not being able to sleep, Mary got up during the night, very early, while it was still dark. And she went – where else? – to a garden: not to just any garden, but to the one where that had buried his broken body just a day and one-half earlier. And, when it seemed that things could not possibly get worse, they did. Not only had he been killed, but even his body was missing.
Totally consumed with grief, she turned around and saw someone standing there. It was still too dark to make out his features. She was too caught up in her misery to feel his presence. It took all her strength just to force out the words: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Then, in the glorious light of the rising sun, he looked at her, just as he had first looked at her long ago beside the Sea of Galilee. And once again he called her by name: “Mary.” Suddenly she felt a surge of life and hope beyond anything she had ever experienced before. She knew that he had been raised to newness of life. She knew that, in him, she too, had finally been raised. And she knew for certain that, in him, she had found the Great Gardener at last.
On this Easter Day, we join with Mary Magdalene and with all our fellow believers throughout the world and throughout the ages, thanking and praising God for the new life given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And we pray that God, the Great Gardener, would cause God’s grace and joy and life to grow abundantly in our lives and in the life of all the world.