1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.
Let me tell you about my garden. The one I adopted. At the church in Hartford, at the entrance to the parking lot. We had a love affair, the garden and I, the first year of our relationship. New grass flourished. Wild flowers blossomed mightily. Rhododendron and azalea plants, from Home Depot, took root. I bought a small reel mower for the lawn. Once a week through spring and summer I’d visit the garden with a station wagon load of tools, the better to rake, edge, fertilize, and generally manicure that small piece of God’s acre. By late October, after the last leaf had fallen, I said goodbye to my little green friend, confident I had done my best by it and it had rewarded me.
Year two arrived. High hopes with it, some new plantings too. But no rain. No sprinklers. Lots of heat. Flowers withered, bushes died, and I found myself in August raking dirt and hoping I could find someone who wanted to buy a fairly new reel mower. I can no longer think of Eden without wondering not just about snakes in the grass, but whether there was any grass at all. Worse still, I can no longer employ in sermons with confidence the metaphor of garden as a place of rest and refreshment for the soul… now that I have experienced the vagaries of the natural cycles on my garden.
Of course I should have known. Tonight’s (Maundy Thursday) garden is the scene of betrayal… just as the first garden is the scene of disobedience. Bad things can happen in pleasant places, just as good things can happen in hostile places (think Golgotha). It all depends on what is going on inside the heads and hearts of those in the garden.
We do have a good idea of what takes place in minds and hearts in Gethsemane. Jesus struggles with the will of God. Most of us do. And though his struggle is harder, he acquiesces through sweat and blood to the mission looming in two crossed beams of wood unmistakably before him in his mind’s eye. On a purely human level, I marvel at him and his benediction, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” I never seem to be able to complete that transaction with eternity. Even though my bargaining position is weak and his is strong. Amazing… amazing grace indeed.
The mind and hearts of others are also exposed in the garden of olives. The oh so brave disciples, just moments earlier declaring their loyalty forever, fall asleep. Too much wine? One of the uninvited of the twelve appears, in the company of arresting police. With a kiss he identifies his “Friend.” The passion speeds to its conclusion. The participants remain true to form. The garden, for all of its pleasant airs, becomes the scene of treachery, heroism, fear, and courageous faith.
Another garden awaits Jesus. Joseph’s lovely garden, we sing its name. Joseph of Arimathea, the rich guy with the empty tomb he provides the young rabbi from Galilee for his burial. There on the third day after the brutal Friday, Mary is surprised by the “gardener.” When he says her name she realizes it’s her dear, dear friend, alive again. The news spreads from that garden like the fragrance of roses in full bloom, across the city, across the land, over the oceans, and over the generations: he who died lives again. Like flowers in springtime. Like the butterfly emergent from its cocoon. Yet unlike anything in the natural world and the most beautiful of gardens. Better, far better.
The race lost its way in a garden at the beginning of time. The race was brought back to its true purpose (love and joy, for God’s sake and ours too) in the garden of prayer and resolution. The race finds its future on an Easter morning among Joseph’s lilies, a preview of the pastures of heaven.
Maybe I’ll plant desert flowers in my Hartford garden this spring.