The Gardener | Caleb Schut

She supposes that he is the gardener.

Mary supposes that the man she turns and sees strolling through this cemetery garden is there to pick weeds and prune olive trees. She thinks he is the gardener.

 

The Bible begins this way: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 

John’s gospel begins this way: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John’s gospel makes the point, over and over again, that something which started during creation, at the foundation of the world, found its fulfillment in Christ.

The creation story of Genesis ends in a garden. Adam and Eve are hiding. And God is searching for them. Adam, where are you? Eve, why are you hiding?

And so, John’s story ends too, in a garden. His story ends with a woman searching for God. Where is he? Where have you put him? Tell me where he is.

We have come full circle, and we find ourselves back in the garden. Mary supposes that the man she sees that Easter morning is the gardener.  And notice, Jesus does not correct her. John does not correct her, either. Because John wants us to see that she is not wrong. The gardener in Genesis searching for Adam and for Eve is one and same as the gardener that is sought out and found here by Mary.

On that morning, the story that began in a garden in Genesis finds its fulfillment in a garden outside of Jerusalem, where the woman who searches for Christ, finds him. Through tear-blinded eyes, she calls him the gardener, and she is not wrong. The same God that sought Adam and Eve in the Garden in Genesis is the God who has made it possible for all humanity to come out of their hiding.

“Mary,” Jesus says. 

And at the sound of her voice, she realizes that the gardener is none other than her beloved teacher, her friend.

 

As we come to this table, we hear his same voice. Where are you? Why are you hiding? We hear him speak our names, “Mary. Kathy. Jason. Jess.” If we can muster up some fraction of the curiosity and hope that caused Mary to go to the tomb on Easter morning, then we too can hear the voice of the gardener call our names and invite us to come out of hiding. We too can meet the risen Lord Jesus. 

Prayers of the People

 

God our Father, by raising Christ your Son you conquered the power of death
and opened for us the way to eternal life. Let our celebration today raise us up and renew our lives by the Spirit that is within us. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

We pray, O God, that you would look with mercy on those who today are fleeing from danger, homeless and hungry. Bless those who work to bring them relief; inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts; and guide the nations of the world towards that day when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and of peace. 

We pray, Lord, for boldness to live as those confident in your resurrection. May we proclaim new life through our daily interactions with others. We ask that we can be your hands and feet each day to those who are eager to have your word displayed to them.

Lord in your mercy....Hear our prayer

Dry Bones | Caleb Schut

Ezekiel 31:1-14 | Dry Bones

Part 1. Death. 

Ezekiel is placed in a valley of dry bones. Very dry bones. They are the house of Israel. God asks Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?" The answer seems obvious. No, they cannot. They are bones, scattered through a valley. The context for this vision is that Judah has been sacked by Babylon. The story of God's people, which began with Abraham, seems to have run its full course. Israel was destroyed in 722 BC. Judah is now destroyed in 586 BC. What is left is a valley of bones. 

The image of bones reminded me of a trip I took to Rwanda. We visited a museum that tells the story of the Rwanda Genocide. In 1994 over 100 days, nearly 900,000 people were slaughtered. Our student group visited a site where room after room was full of bones. Skulls sat on shelves like books. On the ride back to our hostel that night, one of the students said to me, "tell me about your God after that." It was a jarring question. I had been pondering the same sort of dilemma she had. I was speechless. 

I imagine this is how Judah is feeling. "Tell me about your God, now," Babylon seemed to say with their swords and dominance. "Tell me about how great your God is, about His steadfast love, about how His mercies are new every morning." Judah is hopeless and they need a vision. They need to believe that God is still God.

Part 2. Prophesy.

"Prophesy to the bones," God instructs Ezekiel. He begins to speak to them and as the Word of God goes forth from him mouth, the bones begin to move. The text tells us what it sounds like...they begin to rattle. Soon they are coming together. Bones that were broken in the heat of battle are mended and put together. Wounds that were caused by the sword are healed by the word. The Word of God goes forth and reverses the effects of violence. God's word breaks the cycle of violence. In Ezekiel's vision, God's people are restored, not by sword or strength, but by the Word of the Lord.

Next, Ezekiel prophesies to the Spirit. The Spirit of God (or breath of God) moves in the dusty remains and brings life. Just as the spirit breathed life into dust at creation, so God's spirit brings life again. The God that created in the beginning would create once again. God is not a static deity stuck in the past. He is the living God whose breath would continue to create and would constitute a people once again. 

Part 3. Life.

God causes life to flow into the bones of Judah. There had been no cause for hope. What is more helpless than a pile of dry bones? Nothing. Judah is done. The people of God, their story, is finished. They are like the disciples on the evening before the resurrection. They are in some dark room. The windows and doors are locked. They keep their voices down in order to not be discovered. Their head rests in their hands. There is no reason to be optimistic. But God's stubborn love, his steadfast faithfulness is more resilient even than death. God had made a covenant promise to Judah, that they would be his people and dad-gum-it if God wasn't going to see His promise through. Even if that meant breathing life into dry bones. Even if that meant making the Word become flesh and dwelling among us. Even if that meant taking on the form of a slave and becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. God's steadfast love had to be satisfied. 

God's love does not give up on His people. Can these bones live? The answer is no...unless there is a resurrection. Unless God can create again. If God can make life come out of death, then perhaps, yes.  Perhaps these bones can live. 

Prayers of the People

God of peace, we continue to pray for those affected by the violence in our city.  For those who have lost friends or family members we ask that you would comfort your people and provide your presence to them.  We ask that people would react with love and not with revenge in the wake of tragedies.  We thank you for organizations who work every day to eliminate gun violence in our city. May they continue to be beacons of hope in communities who need your transforming presence. 

Discerner of hearts, you look beneath our outward appearance and see your image in each of us. Banish in us the blindness that prevents us from recognizing truth,
so we may see the world through your eyes and with the compassion of Jesus Christ who redeems us.

Lord in your mercy...Hear our Prayer

Service Recap; March 27

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

This is probably how the story should end.  A few women-those eccentric, emotional, unreliable witnesses-tell the faithful 11 that they have gone to the tomb and that there is no body, and in fact there was a messenger who reminded the women that this is precisely what Jesus said would happen. But, like they do today, the words seemed like an idle tale, not the sort of tale you actually believe in.

Bob pointed out that the language used in Luke to describe the disciple’s reaction, Idle Tale, is a little tame. More likely, the disciples thought the women were selling a load of wishful BS. More likely a fool’s story than the actual state of things. But something about the idle tale of the three women gave Peter pause. Something about the idle tale that the women were weaving sounded almost too good not to be true. Peter leans in to the women’s fantastical tale because it had something of Jesus’ own words running through them.

Today the words may strike us the same way. Some believe the tale of the women that Easter morning. Some believe it enough for it to count as faith. Others cannot bring themselves to believe a resurrection happened. Others have no patience for these sorts of stories. If the words seem an idle tale to you, that’s fine. I can’t blame you. The disciples thought the same thing. In fact, if you’ve never thought to yourself, “Hmmm…isn’t it more likely that this is an idle tale?” then maybe you’ve never really thought through the Easter claim: that a dead man did not stay dead.

Peter sprints off towards the tomb to see for himself. The words of the women seemed like an idle tale, but there was a glint of truth in their telling. The words of Mary, Joanna, and the other Mary, that idle tale of the women on Easter morning came to be called the gospel. And in a matter of days, it would be all the disciples would talk about.

Our Easter prayer is to have the courage of the women, and if we can’t afford that, then maybe at least the curiosity of Peter.

The good news is improbable, and I don’t blame you for calling it a fool’s fantasy. Frederick Beuchner puts it this way, “Maybe the truth of it is that it’s too good not to be true.”