This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached on Good Friday, March 30, 2018. The gospel text was John 18:1 — 19:42, the whole Johannine Passion story.
Our gospel story tonight begins in a garden. Across the Kidron Valley there’s a garden. A garden where Jesus and his disciples used to go. Not a garden like we think of. Not a plot of flowers or vegetables. More of a park. A park filled with cedars and olive trees, willows and oaks and almonds.
Jesus went there on his own, but was taken away, arrested. Perhaps this garden was called Gethsemane. John doesn’t tell us. But perhaps it is the Gethsemane that the other gospels speak of, the place where they tell us Jesus was before his arrest. The place he thought about death. The place he agonized about his death, and prayed for deliverance. Perhaps. Perhaps. Across the Kidron Valley, there’s a garden there.
Our story tonight ends in a garden. Near Golgotha there was another garden. A garden Joseph of Arimathea knew about. A garden which held a new tomb where no one had been laid.
Jesus was taken there, carried by Joseph and by Nicodemus, but he will leave that garden on his own. But not yet. His body was laid in the tomb in the garden, and there he rested on the Sabbath. Near Golgotha, there’s a garden there.
Our story begins and ends in gardens, gardens so full of life, but so tainted and tinged with death.
Two gardens. Gardens are places of peace and quietude, places for recreation and relaxation. Ah, but what happened between the two gardens.
Between the gardens, our story unfolds. Such conflict. Such hatred. Such violence. Such faith. Such doubt. Such agony.
Between the gardens, the world erupts. Our savior is killed. The Son of Man is lifted up. The salvation story is told.
Between the gardens.
The whole story of scripture is told between the gardens, perhaps. Genesis tells the story of how it all began in a garden. Perfect, glorious, holy, utopia. The Garden of Eden. Paradise. Six days to create, the Sabbath to rest. The perfect life. But we broke the garden, and sin arrived. Suffering arrived. Pain and worry and anger and blame and despair arrived. We left the garden, never to return. Life became hard. Work became back-breaking. Childbirth became agony. Hopes became shattered. Death became our companion. The first garden is gone.
But one day, Isaiah tells us, one day, “we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”
One day, Jeremiah tells us, one day, “our life shall become like a watered garden, and we shall never languish again.”
One day, Ezekiel tells us, one day, “they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden.’”
One day, Hosea tells us, one day, we “shall again live beneath God’s shadow, we shall flourish as a garden.”
One day, the author of Revelation tells us, “the river of the water of life shall flow through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
One day. Scripture tells us that one day we shall find ourselves in another, new garden. In fact, scripture tells us that one day we shall be that new garden. The garden of the Lord’s planting.
For the story of Scripture is our story. The story of God and God’s people. And we are they. We are they who will one day be the garden of the Lord’s planting.
But not yet. Today we are between the gardens. In a world with pain and agony and hatred and suffering. It is no wonder that worship attendance is so much lower on Good Friday than Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday is the story of the second garden, the garden when all is full of life, full of joy. Today is the story between the gardens. The story of the messiness and brutality of life. Today we come face to face with death. And while Easter Sunday is true, Good Friday is true as well. The truth we live with every day.
And yet. Even now, Christ is in the garden. Christ is there, resting. Waiting. Preparing. Gethsemane may be empty, but the garden near Golgotha is not. Christ is there. This garden may be in a place of death, but it is not dead. It is sleeping. Hibernating. Germinating. Lying in hope.
Eden too may be empty, but the garden which we will be is not. Christ is there. Hope is there. The hope that this garden will bloom with lilies and Alleluias. And it will.
We live between the gardens now, in the world of pain. But not forever. Christ is in the garden. Preparing it for us. Pruning it. Nurturing it. Fertilizing it with his death. Nourishing it with his life. We will be in that garden soon. We will be that garden soon. We will find life from the place that once held death. Soon. There’s a garden there.
Not yet, but soon.
Featured image is a Word Cloud of the text of this sermon, from WordItOut.com.