Monday, April 17, 2017

Gardeners in the New Creation: An Easter Sermon

John 20:1-18

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Good morning, and Happy Easter to you all! It is indeed a joy to share with you in celebration of the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a holy season of beauty, light, and gladness. All around us it seems that creation too is sharing in our celebration.

Just as we once again sing our Alleluias and our Easter hymns, so the birds sing their songs. We are swept up together with them in rejoicing. The Hebrew poem, The Song of Songs, from Holy Scripture says it like this,

Arise, my love, my fair one,   and come away; for now the winter is past,   the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth;   the time of singing has come,and the voice of the turtle-dove   is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs,   and the vines are in blossom;   they give forth fragrance.Arise, my love, my fair one,   and come away.

It woos us does it not? After the sometimes dreary winter months here in New York, the return of warm weather, sun, and green grass, as well as the blooming of flowers does indeed feel like a kind of resurrection. To me, each spring is a miracle, a gift, and the promise that God has not given up on the world. He restores it every year and each time he dazzles us with beauty.

We eagerly await its signs, and look for them. Like that lonely crocus that pokes its head up from the ground, amidst snow flurries in the middle of March or like the robin that suddenly appears in our back yard. They are promises that spring is coming! It will soon be here! Likewise Jesus burst fourth from his tomb in the midst of our dying world oppressed by the long winter of sin. His resurrection is a promise of a new creation, a restored Earth.

Jesus is making all things new. He is fixing what has been broken and misshapen by sin and death. He is setting us—and all creation—free from our bondage. He is bringing the joy of spring to our dreary winter. What signs does Saint John give us in this morning’s gospel of this coming new creation—of it indeed having already arrived in our midst?

The first sign given is simply the opening words of our reading, “Early on the first day of the week…”

In the Biblical story of creation, God fashions the world in seven days. On the seventh day, the Sabbath day, he rested from his labors. He commanded that his people also rest on that day. It is a day set aside to restore the soul, to restore relationship with God. It is a day of recreation. Easter Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, is the first day of a new week, the first day of a new creation. All things are made new on this day. There is a beautiful hymn that captures this well:

Morning has broken like the first morningBlackbird has spoken like the first birdPraise for the singingPraise for the morningPraise for them springing fresh from the world Mine is the sunlightMine is the morningBorn of the one light Eden saw playPraise with elation, praise ev'ry morningGod's recreation of the new day

The second sign is the empty tomb. The stone is rolled way, because on this new day, the first day of a new creation, the resurrection of the dead has begun. The Jewish people, and the party of the Pharisees in particular, believed that when the messiah came he would restore all things and the righteous dead would be raised to share in the new age.

Long ago the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed,

“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.”

Jesus is called the “firstborn from the dead.” He is the first among many brothers and sisters. Where he goes we will follow.  There is a sequence of events as scripture describes the resurrection of the dead, first Christ, then at his coming again those who belong to him, and then the final consummation when all creation will be made new. 

Saint John gives us yet another sign that the new creation has begun. This new day, like the first day, begins in a garden. When our risen Lord first appeared to Mary, in her grief, she did not yet recognize him, but thought he was the gardener. She was of course mistaken, but in another sense Jesus really is a gardener. This was how Jesus chose to be perceived by her.  He is a gardener in the sense that Adam was a gardener when he was made a steward of God’s creation in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus is the steward of a new and better creation. He is a new Adam, a fresh start for the human race.

The first commandment given to the human race was to tend and keep-serve and protect—the beautiful garden that God gave them for their home. Human beings are unique among God’s creatures as gardeners. We plant and we grow, we prune, and we cultivate. We continue God’s project of creation. We take what he has given us and we care for it, we nurture it, we multiply, and beautify it.

When human beings are participating with God in creation as wise stewards we are at our best, but Adam has fallen down on the job. Instead of caring for creation he has abused and misused it. Instead of making the world a more beautiful place we have paved paradise and put up a parking lot! Creation has been dragged down with us into corruption and bondage.Christ has come to repair what Adam ruined. He has come to pull up the weeds and irrigate the dryness. To cut off the dead branches and graft in new and healthy vines. 

When Mary recognizes Jesus for who he is, she clings to his feet, she never wants to let him go. Again, the Song of Songs says,

“When I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me.”

But Jesus tells her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” And earlier he had told his disciples, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper—the Holy Spirit—will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

She must not hold him to the earth! It is not yet the end, when Christ will return to take his bride—the people of God—to himself. The day of the final consummation has not yet come. The new creation has begun but it is not yet finished. We have a job to do!

Just as Adam was made a partner with God in creation, so are we made partners with Christ in the new creation. He sends us his spirit to remake us after his own likeness. He gives us his spirit so that we too can share in the redemption of the world, so that we can become with him wise stewards, gardeners in the new creation, bringing beauty and truth to a world that has far too little of either.

Just as Jesus sent Mary to tell his brothers and sisters the good news, so he sends us. We are to announce to them, “Arise, winter is now past and the spring has come! Flowers appear on the earth. Now is the time for singing!” Let our joy be so contagious that all creation is swept up in our songs of praise!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!