There is a jarring contrast between the brutality of the crucifixion, and the image of the garden where Jesus’ tomb was found. One is a vision of gore, gambling soldiers and jeering crowds and the other conjures up a sense of peace, tranquility and beauty. Here was a graveyard for the rich, carefully tended and managed by gardeners. A peace in which the well-heeled could rest, a borrowed grave fit for the King of the Jews.
It is to this garden that, before the first Easter sunrise, Mary Magdalene made her way. What would be in her mind as she went? Was she steeling herself to see the battered corpse of a dear friend? Was she pushing all that to the back of her mind, telling herself that this was simply something that had to be done? What she wasn’t expecting was a tomb which was empty, and her tear-laden words are tragic: “they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
No wonder when she turns, and sees a figure by her she fails to recognise Jesus. No wonder she assumes he is the gardener. She is mistaken, of course.
But she is also correct.
You’ll remember that the Bible beings with a garden - Eden - and that God took Adam “and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15). Adam is the first gardener we meet in the Bible, but along with Eve is soon expelled for disobeying God and the human race is tainted with the sin of Adam. When Jesus comes, and lives a perfectly obedient life, he ‘reboots’ the human race. This is why Paul, when he is writing about Jesus’ mission, refers to him as the “last Adam”. He writes:
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. … The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. … Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:45-49)
The Garden of Eden is a place of judgement for the human race, due to the disobedience of Adam. The Garden Tomb is a place of reconciliation for the human race, due to the obedience of Jesus. The first gardener fell from grace, but the last gardener restored grace. The actions of the first Adam brought death, the actions of the last Adam brought life.
When Mary thought she saw a gardener, she was half right. She saw the new Adam, restoring all that was lost in Eden.
This is why Easter stands at the hinge of history. It is more than simply a tale about a human coming back to life, it is the account of how God restored the human race so that we might be reconciled to him. It is about how the historic sin of Adam was finally dealt with. It is a new start, a ‘new birth’ a ‘new creation’. It is cosmic in its scope.
It is also an event which poses a question: which gardener? Will you default to following Adam, or turn to follow the last Adam? Will you follow the path which leads to death, or the road which leads to life?
The promise of the empty tomb is profound indeed.