Reflections on the Readings
Easter Sunday Morning - April 4, 2010
By Dennis Hankins
The Voice of the Gardener
...God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. (Peter - Acts 10:40, 41)
In his Gospel, John states that Mary Magdalene found the tomb of Jesus empty on the first day of the week. So, is it the third day, or the first day? Well, it's both. I'll tell you why in a minute.
So what is the meaning of the 'third day?' The period of 'three days' appears frequently in Scripture. Here are some examples of this motif.
As Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days, Jesus was in the heart of the earth, preaching to the spirits in prison for three days. (Matthew 12:40) (1 Peter 3:18)
Abraham and his son Isaac, took a three day journey to the land of Moriah. Isaac, the son of the promise made to Abraham and Sarah, is to be offered. It is to be a burnt offering. On the third day, just before Abraham offered his son, God provides himself a ram. Looking up from the strained face of Isaac who lay upon the altar, Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham names the mount and the occasion, Jehovah-Jireh, meaning, 'on the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.'(Genesis 22:4, 13)
At the Lord's direction, Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven and invoked darkness over the land of Egypt. The darkness that settled all over Egypt was darker than a million midnights. Scripture describes it as a darkness that could be felt. In contrast, all the people of Israel had light where they dwelled. This lasted for three days. (Exodus 10:21-23)
Predicting his own humiliation awaiting him in Jerusalem, Jesus said he would be scourged and killed, and then rise on the third day. (Luke 18:31, ff.)
The third day is also Sunday, or the first day of the Jewish week. You will notice on our calendars that Sunday remains the first day of the week. For Christians, it is the weekly celebration of what occurred on the third day; the resurrection of our Lord.
In today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter describes the 3 1/2 year ministry of Jesus. Peter says, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." (Acts 10:38)
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus cast out seven devils, is one of several women, who also followed Jesus and his disciples. (Luke 8) She is one of the three Mary's standing near the cross of Jesus. (John 19:25) And on the first day of the week, it is Mary Magdalene who first arrives at the empty tomb.
She had tasted of the power that raised Jesus from the dead. Her love and devotion, inspired by her deliverance from Satan's power, brought her to Jesus' tomb that first Easter. Most likely she was coming to ensure that Jesus' body had been properly prepared for burial.
Because the Jewish Sabbath began on Friday at sundown, Jesus' body is quickly prepared and bound in linen cloths and hastily placed in the first available tomb in the garden. It is near the place of the crucifixion. Yet, it is Mary Magdalene, who first discovers that the tomb is empty. Fearing the worst, she reports to Peter and John saying, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."
They in turn find the linen cloths lying and the head napkin rolled up separately in a place by itself. Not yet understanding the Scriptures, that he must rise from the dead, they went back to their homes.
It is Mary Magdalene who cannot leave the garden tomb. She lingers there alone in her thoughts, weeping outside the tomb. Again, longingly, she looks into the dark, empty tomb. But now the tomb is no longer dark, nor quite empty. Seeing two angels in white, sitting where the body had lain, one at the head and one at the feet, they say to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"
It is then that the most poignant words in scripture drip from the lips of this heart broken woman. She answers, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."
Someone who appears to be the gardener also asks her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?' Again, supposing him to be the gardener she says, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
It is then the gardener says to her, "Mary." It is the same voice who said to her almost three years ago, "Mary. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed!" Maybe he also said to her, "Go, and sin no more." Then hitching her life to that star of Jacob, Mary Magdalene never looked back.
On this first day of the week, may you hear the gardener say your name. Go ahead and think about what that may sound like. Bill, Mary, Cora, Debbie, Susan, Nick, Rob, Lisa, Ralph, Carla, Jim, "Why are you weeping?" Know that he lives and that he cares for you too. And upon hearing his voice, may the same power that raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, fill you with unwavering faith, unshakeable hope, and unlimited love.
May the Holy Spirit help you this Easter season to be the voice of the gardener in someone's life.
Let us pray: Dear Father, In Christ you raise us up through the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Make us witnesses of the same Christ whom death could not hold. Amen.