Rehearsing the Easter story through three powerful pairs of images – two gardens, two trees, two disciples.
Celebrations around the world on Easter Sunday centre around a garden, a garden tomb to be precise. The garden tomb is the pinnacle of the gospel story. The empty tomb in the garden is a powerful symbol of hope, resurrection, and life renewed. It is not just a picture relevant to our relationship with God, certainly it starts there, but the implications reverberate through all of humanity.
The tomb in the garden is the continuation of a story that started at the dawn of time, in another garden, the original garden.
In that first garden, the bible tells us that God made Man and Woman to live in harmony with Himself, with creation, as well as with one another. Humanity was the pinnacle of God’s creation. There was no temple, nor any plan for a temple in that garden. God’s intention was to place his image in Man and Woman. They would be in charge of creation and they would be His image on our planet. This immense responsibility and privilege came however with some ground rules. There were a few places they could not stray – one tree in particular.
As with all children everywhere a prohibition only rouses an irresistible fascination. Adam and Eve, and all their children ever since, decided they knew best. They did not need God’s advice, they insisted they could choose for themselves, and in their insistence they chose against God.
The result was nothing short of catastrophic. Human kind was banished from the presence of God. The garden was sealed with no way back. Relationships would never be the same again.
The story in the original garden reminds us that we cannot blame Adam and Eve. We have re-enacted that story our whole lives. We regularly choose our own way, a way of alienation and separation from our Creator.
But what we lost at the one tree, was restored at another.
God, in the person of Jesus, came to restore what was lost at the first tree. He hung on a cross, a tree, to restore relationship with God and with one another. He died the most horrific death upon a tree, to make a way for you and I to reenter the garden.
But how do we participate in the story, how do we enter into the hope of the new garden?
In the aftermath of the crucifixion, Jesus’ closest friends and family were grief stricken, scattered in their confusion and hopelessness. But two disciples, who had till now followed Jesus only in secret, stepped forward to ensure the story would continue.
Joseph of Aremathea and Nicodemua were both prominent Jews, in fact members of the ruling Council in Jerusalem. They personally went to Pilate to ask for possession of the body of their Lord.
It is almost impossible for us to conceive of the risk to their lives and livelihood that this entailed:
They were endangering their standing in the city, their place in society.
If they were ostracized it could affect their livelihood.
But ultimately this act could have cost them their lives.
In addition to this, it was the time of the Passover. The most important feast in Judaism. A time for family and friends to share together and celebrate the deliverance of Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. As prominent figures in the city their participation was expected. Yet here is something incredible to note. By coming into contact with a dead body, they were declaring themselves unclean. They would have had to isolate themselves from society, their own friends and family, for seven days.
Crucifixion was a gruesome business, one that the Romans had perfected. Jesus’ body would have been a bloody mass of pulp and flesh. After an endless day of sustained beatings, flogging, and torture he would have been barely recognizable to his own family.
By taking Jesus’ body for embalming and burial, Joseph and Nicodemus would have been covered in His blood. Not just their hands, but their clothes would have been soaked, and their consciences scarred with evidence of the torment He endured.
But how would the story have panned out without their bold and selfless act? Where would the story be without the garden and the tomb of Joseph? Their courageous act has huge implications for us all:
We too need to get out hands dirty. We need to recognise that we are culpable, that He shed His blood on our behalf. It is only through His blood that there is resurrection. It is only through the tree of the cross that we enter the garden of new life and revived hope.
The beauty that the garden represents is available to all. The garden of resurrection, of new life, of hope renewed, is held out to us all at Easter. But it is only through the tree of the cross that we have access to the garden of resurrection.
We come not only to immerse our hands in His sacrifice, but to surrender our lives to the One who gave His life that we might truly live.
I invite you to read the story for yourself in the Gospel of John Chapter 18-20
If you have been challenged by this post please share with others and also see my Good Friday post – Holiday of Holy Day?