In the Garden: An Easter Reflection

Phyllis Nissila

1, A.D.
Based on the Gospel according to John, chapter 20, verses 1-18, (with a little poetic embellishment) the story of the very first Good News proclamation on Easter morning goes thus:

Compelled to leave their hiding place because of the astonishing news that Jesus was no longer in His tomb, Simon Peter and the others ran after the woman who announced this. They wanted to see for themselves.

Sure enough: no body, shroud laying where discarded, head wrap folded and set apart.

Then everybody went home.

Except the woman.

Mary Magdalene, in grief and no doubt despair, wanted one more look, one more glimpse to make sure He wasn’t there.

One can imagine her heart’s cry: “Jesus! Where are You! What’s happened? Are You really alive somewhere?”

She stooped down and looked in the sepulcher one more time, the smell of embalming spices, dried blood, and damp earth congealed in the close air.

Perhaps the angels standing near the slab startled her, but she was undaunted; she wanted to know the whereabouts of the man who had profoundly changed her life, Jesus of Nazareth. But the angels, too, affirmed: He was gone.

Then, when she turned to leave: Him—only Mary wasn’t yet aware it was Him.

(Did Jesus, so recently from Golgotha and grave and perhaps touched by the depth of her sorrow, just need a minute?)

Mary thought He was a gardener come to tend the tombs in the thin light of dawn. So she queried “the gardener” too.

And then the reveal of reveals:

“MARY!”

Of an instant. She knew. It was Him.

“Touch me not,” He said. “(For) I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (17, KJV)

And Mary went immediately to tell the others the good news, to give them the seminal pronouncement upon which the entirety of the Christian faith rests, the first Easter message: He is alive!

AN UNLIKELY MESSENGER?
On this end of the timeline I ponder that first pronouncement and the one to whom it was assigned.

Not a likely candidate in that culture, or in corners of this culture: a woman. A woman with a past, at that. Not among the trusted twelve (just then, eleven); not one with a future or a following. Just a secondary character in the vast, numberless cast and crew of the greatest story ever told.

Some wonder: did she garner the role of the first to announce the Good News by default because the men had gone home?

Others wonder: did Jesus, for reasons of His own, choose that instant and that exact person to show Himself resurrected and to commission?

(Just two of my questions for “later”.)

But as a woman, when I think of Mary Magdalene in that garden I can’t help but think of a connection with another woman in another garden who experienced another “reveal”. Only not a good one.

1, B.C.
I wonder if Eve gazed often on that tree, the one God had forbidden her and Adam. Did she, from time to time, pause a bit just to admire its plump, moist, fruit (be-jeweled in Eden’s shimmering mid-day light) hanging in abundance…so near for the picking?

Did her mouth water a little each time she caught a soft scent of ripe apple?

Nevertheless, she answered rightly the day the snake queried her. We may not, she assured the creature, eat of this tree for when we do we shall die. (Genesis 3:3)

The creature, determined, pressed.

“Ye shall not surely die,” he said. (Did he pause just a bit for Eve to allow this new thought entrance?) “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (5)

Well, hmmm, he was beautiful and articulate. And she knew as yet no fear. And wasn’t it just another day in paradise? And to be a god? Well!

So she ate. And her eyes were opened. Adam ate also, and his eyes were opened. And for the first time they tasted shame. And fear.

The snake was partly right: they now knew evil, but it was not on a par with the good they shared walking with God in the garden in the cool of the day. This knowledge made them want to hide.

But God found them and found them out.

Soon, on the edge of Eden, they learned what “knowledge” they had really gained: knowledge of wrongdoing, of listening to that other spirit, of tasting forbidden fruit. Knowledge of the consequences. And the dark side of redemptive history commenced.

Yet even in the dread proclamations leveled at them and at the evil one, Hope voiced, too: “And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this […] I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (14, 15)

Though Eve’s and Adam’s sins stained Eden and assigned God’s beloved pain for the first time, the consequences wouldn’t be forever. One more powerful than evil, they were promised, would come…

BACK IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD
Back to Easter, A.D., where stood the “seed”—so lately “bruised”—alive again in fulfillment of that ancient promise, having crushed evil’s power.

But that wasn’t all He did.

Jesus, God’s own Son, fulfilled justice, too, by taking our beating, sin’s just recompense, on that bloody cross. Your beating and mine, and Eve’s and Adam’s and Mary’s and whosoever else wills down through time that we might, in the garden of a new Spirit, fellowship with God again in the cool of our days and on one day, in paradise restored!

AND ON THE WOMEN…
Although it was a woman who first saw, listened to, and obeyed Satan, it was a woman who first saw, listened to, and obeyed the resurrected Christ.

I wonder if this is God’s own “poetic embellishment,” the greatest story, book-ended by the unparalleled pain of one woman on the eve of destruction and the unparalleled joy of another woman at the dawn of restoration?

(Another question for later.)

And on a larger scale, I ponder the woman, “collective”—“Jew, Greek; slave, bond; male, female”—God’s chosen (who also choose Him) variously faithless and faithful, weak and strong, sinful and repentant, but who all, like Eve and like Mary, have the same one Hope: Jesus, the Risen Lord.

IN THE GARDEN 2012
And the news is the same today: grave still empty, Satan still crushed, and salvation still at hand for others who might even now be searching in some garden of sorrow, grief, or inquiry of their own because, the good news continues, He waits, still…

Joyous Easter!

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