We humans, we beloved creatures of God, created in God’s own image, began our lives in a garden. I want you to imagine that garden for a moment: A lush, verdant garden, filled with waterfalls and ponds and lakes, bursting with color and song, a setting for the artistry of God. Palm trees and maple trees, hummingbirds and sheep, lions and lambs . . . and human beings. It all began in a garden.And then things went terribly wrong. Things went terribly wrong as humans grasped for something more, as humans reached beyond themselves and sought to become gods. The one thing not given to us, that was the one thing for which we reached.
And so gardens became something different. Death entered our world, and our gardens reflect that, because they, too, die. Plants bloom and grow for only a season, and then they wither and die.
But not forever. Gardens may be places of decay and death, but they are also places of resurrection. Places of NEW life. Places of hope.Tonight, we first begin not in a garden but indoors, in a room. We begin in a safe, cozy, inside place, in a gathering of Jesus and his closest friends. Probably they have gathered for a Passover meal, for that meal celebrating the great liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. That celebration would explain their presence in Jerusalem. And who is there, at such a meal? The Twelve, surely. And perhaps others unmentioned – Jesus’s mother, Mary Magdalene, perhaps others of his followers. All gathered safely inside for a meal . . .
A meal which takes a couple of unexpected turns. It begins with a foot-washing, a frequent occurrence for those who wandered dusty roads all day, but surprising in that Jesus, the Lord and leader of those present, insisted upon washing THEIR feet. And then a meal – again, a usual occurrence, but this time altered by Jesus’s declaration that the food to be eaten and the drink to be consumed were his way of offering his very self to his followers, of becoming food and drink, of becoming nourishment for them.When we partake of the same meal in a few minutes, let us remember who was present for the first one. Those who followed Jesus, yes. And those who struggled, like Peter, soon to deny him three times. And those who questioned, like Thomas, soon to doubt his resurrected presence. And those who turned away, like Judas, soon to betray him.* All there. All present. Just as we, with traces of each of them in our DNA, are all present.
And then . . . and then “there was a garden.” Listen tonight for our first reading during our Tenebrae service, our service of shadows, for there will be a garden. The Garden of Gethsemane, to which Jesus and his disciples repair after their meal. How astonishing, that the story of human life begins in a garden, and the story of human liberation from sin and brokenness begins in a garden. A place which to us is synonymous with sorrow and loss – a place which is synonymous with death – is a garden, a place of death in which the possibility of life yet lurks.
And then . . . and then “there was a garden.” Listen for those words again in our final reading tonight. Almost all of the candles will be out, and we will be sitting in silence and shadow, and we will hear that “there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” Joseph of Arimathea, who asks permission to take Jesus’s body from the cross, will lay it in a tomb in a garden. A tomb – a house for the dead. A garden – a home for of abundant hope. A hope which will be realized in only three days.
What is going on here? Human life begins, and then falters, in a garden. Jesus begins his journey to the cross in a garden. Jesus’s body is laid to rest in a garden. And . . . in the end, as promised to us in Revelation, the final book of the Bible . . . there will be a garden, a garden in the city to which we are all invited.
But for tonight . . . tonight we pause in the darkness, in the quiet room for a meal, and then in the silent garden, silence of a garden in which violence and death loom ahead. We cannot know Sunday until we know Thursday and Friday. We cannot know the joyous abundance of the blooming garden until we know the hard, cold ground of the garden of winter.
Listen carefully and remember . . . there is always a garden. Let it speak to you, of what has been, and of what we wish were not, and of what can be. There is always a garden. Amen