Do you know how we know that Jesus is the bread of life?
He has risen. (He has risen indeed! )
Despite the joyfulness with which we say that, the story of the resurrection that we read today from John’s gospel is somewhat short on joy. The primary emotion we see is grief. Mary Magdalene is weeping. And both the angels she sees inside the tomb and the person outside who she thinks is the gardener ask her the same thing: “Why are you weeping?”
Such a dumb question. Mary was one of the few of Jesus’ followers who was with him at the very end. She had watched his agony as he died on the cross. She’s come to the tomb to anoint his body, and it’s not there. Of course she’s crying. Why wouldn’t she be crying?
But her tears of grief are about to turn into tears of joy. Jesus is not dead. He has risen.
Over the course of the last six weeks of Lent, I’ve been talking a lot about Kate Bowler, one of the authors of the devotional book Good Enough. She has an earlier book with an intriguing title: Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. In this book, she talks about finding out she has a fast-growing cancer. The doctors gave her a devastating prognosis – that she probably had less than a year to live.
While she was still in the hospital, a neighbor came to the door of her house and told her husband something that’s common to say but not always so helpful – that everything happens for a reason.
“I’d love to hear it,” he replied somewhat sarcastically.
“Pardon?” the neighbor said, startled.
“The reason my wife is dying,” he said.
This effectively ended the conversation. The neighbor stammered something and handed him a casserole and hurried away.
The neighbor had good intentions. She was trying to offer comfort and hope. But hope is not so easy sometimes. Life is full of reasons to give up on hope: death, war, violence, addiction, depression, poverty, illness. The list goes on. Can we hold on to hope in the face of everything? Yes. Sometimes it will only be a faint glimmer, but that little tiny seed of hope is good enough.
In our gospel reading, did you notice that Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener? In the book Good Enough, Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie have some good ideas about why that might be. They suggest:
“Maybe it’s because he stole the gardener’s clothes, since his were stripped and gambled over.
Maybe because where Jesus was crucified was a garden. A tiny, beautiful detail that reminds us that death is never too far from new life.
Maybe Jesus looks like his dad, the first gardener, who tended Eden …
Maybe he looks ready to cultivate new life, to pull us toward resurrection with his fingers digging in among the worms.
Or maybe this gardener looks like he knows something about hope—hope that Mary desperately needs.”
Gardeners and farmers do know something about hope.
I am not a gardener or a farmer. I have a black thumb. But I really want to grow some trees, and so I decided one day to save the seeds from some apples and try to get them to grow. I did a little bit of searching on the internet and read something that said to let the seeds dry, and then put them in the refrigerator, and then they would sprout. So I did. Except they didn’t. So I gave up on growing apple seeds.
But I did some more research this week and found out that I gave up too soon. I was thinking it was going to be simpler, kind of like saying, “Resurrectamundo!” over them and then they would grow. But it turns out that they needed to dry much longer than a day or two. And they needed to be cold much longer than a week. I gave up too soon.
Do you know why I was reading about this? Not because I was thinking about apples. It’s because I was thinking about watermelons. Did your mom or dad ever tell you not to swallow watermelon seeds or they’d grow a watermelon in your belly? Did you believe them? I want to say that I didn’t, but I was still wondering this week whether that could really happen. Do you know the answer? Right. It can’t. But not because of the reasons I expected. The seeds pass through too fast. Seeds take time to germinate and grow.
The seeds come out intact and still viable. Feed apples to horses and let them graze in an unmowed field. After awhile, there will be some apple trees growing there.
In her book Good Enough, Kate says, “A seed reaches its potential only when it is buried. When things look most lost, most dark, most covered, most long-gone, most hopeless…that’s when the seed is undergoing the most important change. Through its death, it might produce much fruit. Seeds must be buried, but some even need more drastic circumstances to allow for new life to bust through the thick seed coat. Some need to be exposed to almost freezing temperatures before they will germinate. Sequoia seeds germinate only when burnt. Some seeds when ballooned with water finally burst open. Some when they are kept in the pitch black for a long time. Hard-shelled seeds must be scarred, cracked, or manually broken open. Some need to be eaten by animals and, ahem, released. And still others must sit dormant for several years before something mysterious triggers them to sprout.”
Seeds are amazing, aren’t they? When we plant them, we basically hide them in the dirt and wait to see what will happen. It’s almost like an Easter Egg hunt.
Jesus tells a parable about this in Mark 4. He says, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” (Mark 4:26-27)
This is our resurrection hope. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead made seeds and the miraculous ways they grow, even when it seems unlikely or impossible. That same power lives in us. The Holy Spirit is like a seed planted deep inside us, helping us to have resurrection hope and to grow, though we often do not know how.
But there are some things we DO know. The Holy Spirit helps us to hold on to hope in God with faith and perseverance. So…
Don’t Give Up
Even when it feels like nothing is happening, or like God has left you.
In her book, Kate talks about her faith experience when she found out she had cancer. She says, “In those first few days after my diagnosis, when I was in the hospital, I couldn’t see my son, I couldn’t get out of bed, and I couldn’t say for certain that I would survive the year. But I felt as though I’d uncovered something like a secret about faith. Even in lucid moments, I found my feelings so difficult to explain… At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus. When they sat beside me, my hand in their hands, my own suffering began to feel like it had revealed to me the suffering of others, a world of those who, like me, are stumbling in the debris of dreams they thought they were entitled to and plans they didn’t realize they had made. That feeling stayed with me for months.”
“St. Augustine called it “the sweetness.” Thomas Aquinas called it something mystical like “the prophetic light.” But all said yes, it will go. The feelings will go. The sense of God’s presence will go. There will be no lasting proof that God exists. There will be no formula for how to get it back. But they offered me this small bit of certainty, and I clung to it. When the feelings recede like the tides, they said, they will leave an imprint. I would somehow be marked by the presence of an unbidden God.”
Sometimes faith and hope are just a faint glimmer, so faint we can’t even see it. But it’s still there. So don’t give up.
And trust the Good Gardener.
Did you know that God is a gardener? In Genesis 2:8-9, the Bible says: “…the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food….”
In 1 Corinthians 3:6-9, the Apostle Paul says, “ I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service, you are God’s field, God’s building.”
We are God’s people, and we can trust God to stay with us forever and to help us. It’s that deep trust that helps us to be resilient even when life drags us down.
Brene Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, talks about her research into resilience. She says that the stories of resilient people all had one thing in common: “all of these stories were about spirit. According to the people I interviewed, the very foundation of the “protective factors”—the things that made them bouncy—was their spirituality. By spirituality, I’m not talking about religion or theology, but I am talking about a shared and deeply held belief.”
Based on her interviews she came up with this definition of spirituality: “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.”
This is the deeply rooted hope we have because Jesus conquered sin and death and has risen from the dead. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, helping us to be resilient, to have resurrection hope.
So don’t give up. Keep on trusting God. Even if it seems like hope is lost. God is still here.
God sent us Jesus so we would know that God loves us very much and always will.
Even just knowing that is good enough.
 Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-woman-lying-in-hospital-bed-3769151/
 Bowler, Kate. Everything Happens for a Reason (pp. 112-113). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/faceless-woman-working-with-soil-in-garden-4207908/
 Bowler, Kate; Richie, Jessica. Good Enough (p. 228). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Bowler, Kate; Richie, Jessica. Good Enough (pp. 229-230). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Bowler, Kate. Everything Happens for a Reason (pp. 121-122). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Bowler, Kate. Everything Happens for a Reason (p. 122). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (p. 64). Hazelden Publishing. Kindle Edition.