There's one small detail in John's Easter story which has always intrigued me. It comes at the point when Mary is alone at the tomb. She has just heard the words of the angels announcing Jesus' resurrrection. She turns around and sees Jesus standing there, but she doesn't recognize him.
This detail in itself might seem a little intriguing, and it's always been the subject of intense debate. "What do you mean, she didn't recognize him? Did he look different?" "Was it just that she wasn't expecting to see him? After all, you don't expect to see someone standing there, when you just buried them."
However, it's not this detail that fascinates me. After all, there are other instances where Jesus appears to his disciples, but is not recognized: the familiar story from Luke's gospel, for example. Two disciples are walking down the road to Emmaus. Jesus joins their conversation, but they remain clueless about his identity until he breads bread with them. Or the story many of us heard last Sunday, about Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias. He calls to his disciples, who are fishing, but they don't recognize him.
Here's the detail that keeps me thinking. Mary turns around, sees Jesus, and mistakes him for the gardener.
She thought he was the gardener. Of all people.
She thought he was the kind of guy who would like to get down on his knees and plant flowers, who would be pruning back the hedges, who would be paying attention to the weeds. I wonder why she thought that. Were his hands dirty, did he look tired? What was he doing? I mean, I suppose on one level it's supposed to be funny. She is clearly mistaken.
But it got me thinking.
I remembered one spring that I was looking for new places to take Scout for a walk. I was getting a little tired of walking the same blocks every morning, and maybe a little tired of hearing people say, "Hey! I saw you out walking your dog today." So I started taking Scout for just a little drive over to a garden near one of our city lakes. It's a large and well-known garden, filled with many varieties of roses, and lots of other flowers. But early in the morning there were not so many walkers there.
Early in the morning, I discovered, is when the gardeners do their secret work, making the garden look beautiful, planting and pruning and pulling weeds.
Did you notice, perhaps for the first time? Jesus' tomb was in a garden.
Early in the morning he rose, doing the secret work of the new creation, planting and pruning and pulling weeds.
Sometimes in all of our talk about "heaven" we over-spiritualize the resurrection. Jesus rose and walked on this earth, the beginning of a new creation. He is the new Adam, tending God's garden, as we were supposed to do in the first place.
She thought he was the gardener. Maybe he was, and is. Making all things new. Rocks, trees, birds, dogs, rivers, stars -- even us.