In the Gospel of John, the resurrected Jesus encounters Mary Magdalene in a garden. In fact, she initially mistakes him for a gardener. I have been fascinated with John’s depiction of the resurrected Jesus as a gardener. What truths can we glean from this gardening imagery?
Any gardener recognizes the truth that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” It is our Creator God who gives life. According to Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament professor and author, “The destiny of the human creature is to live in God’s world, not a world of his or her own making. And human beings are to live in community with God’s other creatures, caring for them.” The nature of our sinfulness is to neglect or ignore this truth – that God is our Creator and we are called to live in community. Before this pandemic pulled the rug out from under us, we had become, in the big picture, an incredibly selfish and individualistic society and the gospel message had become less and less relevant for more and more people. Maybe we are now remembering the truth that this is God’s world and we are called to live in the community of God’s making.
The gardener also understands the cycle of seasons, the cycle of life. In the winter of life, we would believe that life dies. But in truth, winter is the time when much activity is occurring below the ground, beyond what the eye can see. I believe that as we have been living through the “winter” of our lives these past weeks, in isolation, much activity is stirring in our souls and in our communities. It will be exciting to see, once we come out of our homes, what new life looks like.
A good gardener knows that for new life to sprout forth, pruning and weeding needs to take place. Weeds, while they may seem pretty in certain circumstances, can choke out the life of all other plants. Kudzu is a good example of a weedy vine; transported from overseas to this country to control soil erosion. Now kudzu is choking out our forests. Weeds demand all the nutrients of the soil, take up all the space, and soak up all the water. We need to be attentive to the weeds in our lives! And pruning – if we do not prune away the dead wood and unnecessary growth, that which does not contribute to new life, the entire plant suffers. We cannot simply celebrate growth for growth’s sake.
A good gardener is attentive to the garden and patient. Tending the garden and being patient and waiting while the mystery of growth takes place. Maybe this time of isolation and social distancing is affording us with an opportunity to be attentive to our gardens – our families, our communities and our country. To be patient and wait on the new life God will bring to us. To do what we can to recognize the weeds in our lives and prune away that which does not ultimately bring new life.
When this coronavirus subsides, perhaps we will see our world differently; we will recognize the beauty of God’s creation and our responsibility to tend and care for it.
Reverend debbie osterhoudt
I am very excited to join in the ministry at Peace Presbyterian Church as interim pastor! I graduated from Vanderbilt University and received my Master of Divinity from Columbia Seminary in Decatur, GA. Before serving at Peace Presbyterian, I served in Triangle area churches as pastor, associate pastor and interim pastor for 33 years. I have a passion for my ministry and study, travel, walking, sailing (which I learned from my father) and gardening.