Weekly Seeds: From the Tomb

Sunday, April 17, 2022
Resurrection Sunday
Easter Day | Year C

Focus Theme:
From the Tomb

Focus Prayer:
Divine Gardener, plant us in your presence and root us in your love. May new life sprout in us as we grow as resurrection people.

Focus Reading:
John 20:1–18
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 10:34–43 or Isaiah 65:17–25
Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24
1 Corinthians 15:19–26 or Acts 10:34–43
John 20:1–18 or Luke 24:1–12

Focus Questions:
1. What are you nurturing? What are you hoping to grow?
2. What seeds need to be planted?
3. What signs of new life do you see budding around you?
4. How can you nurture and tend what you haven’t planted?
5. What is an abiding symbol of the resurrection for you?

By Cheryl Lindsay

There is a meme on social media that essentially declares that while something or someone attempted to bury the person in question, the ones doing the burying did not know that person was a seed. The implication reminds us that burial has an alternative meaning. A seed placed in the ground leads to new life, even flourishing. But nearly every plant we see, every flower that perfumes the atmosphere, every tree or bush that takes root in the ground required, at some point, that a seed fall to the ground, be buried beneath the dirt, and die to its life as a seed. The transformation that takes place means that the seed has to relinquish its former self to become something new.

That something new emerges with essential properties that were found within the seed, but the process of planting adds to the mix. The nutrients the former seed and now emerging plant retrieves from the soil adds something to the mix. The warmth and energy from the sun and the refreshing of the rain add to the mix. The totality of all the steps in the journey add even more to the mix. The new life that springs forth needed a lot of things to go as planned…but none were as necessary as that seed letting go of itself.

Maybe that explains why it happened in a garden.

Gardens are a pervasive image in the biblical narrative. The second creation story, which amplifies the divine-human relationship is set in the garden. That garden is lush and abundant. We get the sense that garden overflows with perfect plants that do not even need tending to grow. The flowers have no thorn, and no stray branches litter the ground. The garden almost cares for itself. That garden is easy until the relationship between Creator and creation gets challenged. All of a sudden, the garden becomes work. The soil needs preparation, plowing, and planting. Weeds become a thing. Until then, no plant diminished or competed with another for nutrients and space. The human went from enjoying the abundance of creation to being burdened by the needs of creation. It happened in the garden.

In the events leading up to the crucifixion, we enter another garden. After that meal with his disciples, Jesus goes to the garden to pray, to communicate with the Parental God (Abba), and he brings his disciples with him to this place. We see a different failing in the divine-human connection as his disciples fall asleep. That particular part of the story isn’t told by John, but is recorded in other accounts. But John does point out that they next travel to another garden where Jesus is ultimately arrested. Before they can take Jesus away, Peter pulls out his sword and begins to fight. But, Jesus does not need defending and heals the wounded servant. It happened in the garden.

The setting of the Easter gospel reading is also in a garden. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb to care for the body of Jesus. It’s a loving act of honoring the dead. As a burial rite, it also provides a routine that helps the process of grief.

Mary’s search for Jesus’ body echoes the language of the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs), in which the female lover searches for her groom (see esp. Song of Sol. 3:1–4). Other parallels include the reference to “peering in” (John 20:5; Song of Sol. 2:9) and the use of spices (John 19:39; Song of Sol. 1:12; 3:6) (Reinhartz 1999). This is not to say that John portrayed Mary and Jesus as physical lovers. Even in the first century, the Song of Songs had acquired a spiritual interpretation as an allegory of the love between God and the covenant people, and it is likely that this allegory lies in the foreground of the Gospel’s allusions to the Song of Songs. (Adele Reinhartz)

Shockingly, Mary discovers that Jesus is not there. Only the remnants of the cloth that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped around his body remain. The rock covering the tomb has broken free. And, instead of a path toward closure, Mary finds more questions. The only one available to ask is the gardener, which also tells us that the tomb was in the garden. Jesus had been buried in the garden.
We have to go back a few verses to read about his burial, but when we do we discover something interesting:
“There was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish Preparation Day and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus in it.” (John 19:41-42)
There wasn’t much distance there was between his place of death and his burial:

John’s Gospel is the sole source of the long-standing tradition that the site of the crucifixion and the site of the tomb of Jesus were almost side by side, and the sole canonical source of the tradition that the tomb stood within an enclosed “garden.” The “place where he was crucified” can only be “Skull Place,” or Golgotha (v. 17), suitable precisely because it was “nearby.” Haste was in order for the same reason the bones of the two victims were broken to hasten death (v. 31), “on account of the preparation of the Jews” (v.42).161 The “garden” is significant because it recalls that other “garden” (18:1) where “Jesus had often gathered” with his disciples (18:2), and where the account of his passion began. The two enclosed “gardens” frame the entire Johannine passion narrative, recalling the Shepherd’s enclosed “courtyard” (10:1, 16) and his care for the sheep. In the first, at his arrest, he protected them and kept them safe (18:8–9). In the second, in due course, he will meet one of them again, and call her by name (see 20:16). There Joseph and Nicodemus laid the body of Jesus. In contrast to the other three Gospels, nothing is said of the tomb being hewn from the rock or sealed with a stone.(Michaels, J. Ramsey.)

Jesus dies by the garden. I suppose his accusers and executions didn’t know that Jesus was a seed either. His hidden followers, Joseph and Nicodemus, didn’t realize that by placing his body in the tomb, they were also planting a seed in the ground.

We don’t know what happens between the burial and this moment. After all, seeds grow in darkness, covered and concealed by the nurturing soil. But we do know that the seed had to break open for new life to form. The darkness of the tomb is the soil that feeds the process of resurrection. When Jesus emerges, he is a new creation in a garden like the first human in the first garden. “Mary’s guess indicates that at first blush the resurrected Jesus was indistinguishable from an ordinary person.” (Andreas J.Köstenberger) Unlike the first human, Jesus is also identified as the Gardener. In Jesus, Creator and Creation are one and the same. “As the passion narrative begins in a garden (18:1-1), so the setting for the first resurrection appearance is likewise a garden (19:41), with its overtones of Paradise renewed (cf. Gen. 2:8-3:24).” (Dorothy A. Lee)

The prophecy of Isaiah ring powerfully:
“For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating.” (Isaiah 65:17-18a)

This is the resurrection story. It’s a new heaven and a new earth being created by the Creator entering into and participating as Creation. It happened in the garden….Jesus emerged from brokenness to new life. Hallelujah! Christ is risen. God is creating. Rejoice…from the tomb.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
The notion of anamnesis derives from Jesus’s command at what has become known as his Last Supper. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he commanded his disciples. The Greek word for remembrance used in the gospel accounts in this command is anamnesis. This word points to more than just a mental recall of events. Rather, it is about bringing the past together with the present. Jesus is calling his disciples to bring a memory of him into their present. Furthermore, this is to be an incarnate memory. For, as he lifts up wine and bread, he says, “This is my body…. This is my blood which is given to you….Do this in remembrance of me.” Through this act, Jesus is symbolically connecting his incarnate reality to the call to remember. He is asking the disciples to re-embody him, that is his ministry, in their present. Simply put, Jesus’s call is a charge to his disciples to embody in their present their memory of him. Such a remembering would reflect a movement from crucifying realities toward God’s promised future. This is the kind of memory to which Jesus is calling all those who follow him. It is an “anamnesis remembering” which provides the key to reconfiguring social memory.
— Kelly Brown Douglas, Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter

“Through the resurrection, God responds to the violence of the cross – the violence of the world – in a nonviolent but forceful manner. It is important to understand that nonviolence is not the same as passivity or accommodation to violence. Rather it is a forceful response that protects the integrity of life. Violence seeks to do another harm, while nonviolence seeks to rescue others from harm. It seeks to break the very cycle of violence itself. . . . That God could defeat the unmitigated violence of the cross reveals the consummate power of the nonviolent, life-giving force that is God.”
— Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God

For further reflection:
“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.” — N.T. Wright
“Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house—the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture—must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.” — Arundhati Roy
“The day misspent,
the love misplaced,
has inside it
the seed of redemption.
Nothing is exempt
from resurrection.”
— Kay Ryan

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.