Eden Calls from Forty Days Away
Today we read of how things went profoundly wrong for Adam and Eve.
It’s the first Sunday of Lent, and with our modern discomfort in talking honestly about sin, the language of the Great Litany and Rite I can send us into a rather gloomy mood if we don’t rearrange ourselves theologically.
But the message from today’s scriptures is actually one of profound hope, a signal to us that yes, our journey these forty days does lead directly to the Cross, but the Cross leads directly to the resurrection.
Today we hear Easter Day calling to us from forty days in the future.
We see Easter’s hope like a point of light on the horizon, a beacon that is our direction and our guide through the wilderness.
It all hinges on a concept known as “Christ as the New Adam.”
Cast your mind forward to the day of resurrection, the early Sunday morning in the Gospel of John when Mary Magdalene arrives to find the tomb empty.
I particularly want to focus on one strange little detail in that text.
We have disciples running a footrace to the tomb, angels appearing and all kinds of excitement.
But Mary Magdalene stands weeping at the tomb, even after the resurrection is announced.
She is sad and afraid.
All she has evidence of right now is a grave robbery.
The gospel says, “”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.””
Supposing him to be the gardener.
At first this seems like a moment of simple mistaken identity, a strange little non sequitur in the Gospel.
But I think the way John tells this story, we are meant to see something a little different.
The point of the resurrection is new birth.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.”
Who was the gardener during the first creation?
I think as we experience the story of the resurrection in the Gospel of John, we are meant to experience a reversal of the casting out of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
Today we read of the pertinent events at Eden.
God creates the heavens and the earth.
God creates man and woman, Adam and Eve, in God’s own image.
They are companions tending the garden, laboring joyfully as gardeners, naming the animals and living with freedom and innocence.
They break God’s one rule and eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They become ashamed and try to cover their nakedness.
They are afraid and hide from God.
God casts them out of the garden into the harsh world, and where once their work of tending the earth and the animals was happy, now it becomes back-breaking labor.
They lose everything, and the worst loss of all is the loss of the intimate companionship with God that in the garden was as easy and natural to them as breathing.
Consider where Mary is when she arrives at the tomb.
She has just lost the intimate companionship with Jesus that was as easy and natural to her as breathing.
Her best friend and teacher has died.
She is like Eve without an Adam.
When Jesus died, she lost her innocence.
The crucifixion was for Mary like the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
She learned that Evil is real and powerful enough to take away the person who is the center of her life and her hope.
She has lost her faith that everything works out in the end.
Her Adam is dead.
One of the themes of Christian art throughout the centuries has been the theme of Christ as the new Adam.
Many times the art depicting the crucifixion will show a skull and bones beneath the Cross of Christ crucified. Those are the bones of Adam, waiting to be brought back to life by Christ’s work on the Cross.
An important image in resurrection art shows the newly living Christ drawing Adam and Eve out of coffins where they have been lying these many generations.
And these coffins are not just buried in the ground, they are being drawn up from a bottomless pit that symbolizes the fate of humanity without Christ’s saving work of death and resurrection.
The reason the story of the Garden of Eden and the Resurrection are so closely entwined is that Eden is where everything began perfectly and ended in disaster, and the Cross is where everything begins in disaster and ends in an incomprehensible rebirth and triumph over death.
But back to Mary Magdalene in the garden.
It is simply no coincidence that she sees Jesus and thinks him to be a gardener. He is a gardener.
He is the New Adam.
And what is the action that he takes that allows Mary to recognize him?
He calls her by name.
Naming God’s creations in the Garden was Adam’s first task in life.
And now Jesus’ first act in the resurrection is to name Mary.
And she sees him and knows him, and her world is broken open by disbelieving joy.
And that moment is when the resurrection is complete.
Jesus had technically awoken in the tomb sometime in the hours previous, the darkness before dawn.
But when he names Mary and she names him back, when they see each other for who they are in the light of new birth and dawn, the world suddenly makes an almighty shift from wrongness and grief back into harmony and joy.
Eden is restored, with a new Adam and Eve rejoicing in it.
But of course Eden is restored not just for Jesus and Mary.
When Jesus arises from the dead as the gardener of Eden, we who have been cast out of the Garden these countless generations are suddenly welcomed back in.
Gone are the fierce guarding angels with flames of sword who kept us out.
Gone are the sin and shame and fear in our own hearts that kept us out.
On the day of resurrection, we are welcomed back into Eden, restored and healed and made whole.
And we are told, along with Mary, to go and welcome others back in, to tell with joy the good news of Jesus Christ.
No longer weighed down to an unforgiving earth and condemned to a life of meaninglessness and drudgery, we are rebuilt from the ground up, made a new creation.
We are freed to explore the Garden of Eden, now the whole Earth restored in the light of the resurrection, freed to run and play in God’s garden with joy.
And we no longer need to hide ourselves from God and one another.
Where Adam’s and Eve’s sins made them ashamed and wanting to cover themselves and hide, in the resurrection we can let go of all the ways we try to hide ourselves in shame and fear from God.
Awakening in the new Eden, we can let our souls shine forth with honesty and freedom before God and one another, because we have been healed and given new life.
But consider also the implications of what comes next in the new Garden.
Jesus is the gardener, and a gardener is first and foremost a description of a job.
A gardener Jesus is not an idle Jesus, and we as the new Adams and Eves restored to Eden have work to do.
The first Adam and Eve were charged with tending the garden, and now that the whole Earth has become the new Eden, it is our job to tend and cultivate it. We are to go out with this new strength and life born in us with the resurrection, and apply it to watering and tending and weeding.
We are to weed out injustice and prejudice and hunger and poverty.
We are to tend God’s creatures and the earth itself with reverence and tenderness.
And we are to water one another’s growth, helping one another drink from the living water and blossom in this new garden of love and promise.
This new Eden brought to life by Jesus, the new Adam, is what awaits us on the other side of these forty days of Lent.
In our gospel today, we read of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness.
They are not just temptations for the sake of temptations, they are his final preparation for his new life of ministry.
So too are these forty days our days of preparation for new life.
At times they will be as difficult as Jesus’ days in the desert.
At times we will feel the Evil One breathing down our necks, egging us on to forget our better selves, to give in to fear and cruelty and our ever-present lust for power.
But we must remember that we are being called back to Eden, and Jesus is leading us there.
We must remember that every dry, dusty, inhospitable bit of desert wilderness we traverse will become the resurrected garden of peace and life and abundance.
That is the song of Easter that we only faintly hear today, but that will lead us onward through temptation and struggle to the dawning of new life with our Savior.