In 1511, the German artist Albrecht Dürer fashioned a woodcut of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus in John 20. Mary falls down before her Lord who has come back to her, the same man who only days before had died a wrenching death. But this does not happen all at once.
Mary woke on Easter morning the way many of us have woken up after the death of someone we love so very dearly. We wake in those early hours and there is a sense of disorientation and confusion. Something is wrong but we are not able to say what. And then it hits us: she is gone; she has died. Mary woke that morning in a kind of fog as she made her way to the tomb, to anoint the body of Jesus. She was on her way to close the books on Jesus, to wrap things up. Many of us have been there too: cleaning out the closets, closing checking accounts, making all the final arrangements. Perhaps we have experienced death in other ways: in broken relationships, in broken marriages, in addiction or abandonment. We find ourselves closing the books and shuffling on.
When Mary gets to the tomb, though, she is horrified to see that Jesus’ body is missing. She does not greet the empty tomb with shouted praise but rather with a more understandable response: she assumes that some fiend has added insult to injury and taken his body. He cannot have dignity even in death, she must have thought. And then she sees a man whom she believes is a gardener. This is no small detail! That Christ seems to be a gardener has cosmos-rippling overtones. Dürer captures this in his woodcut by giving us Christ in a big, floppy — almost goofy — sunhat. He stands erect with shovel over his shoulder ready for work, ready to till soil, ready to make green things grow.
This is Christ the New Adam. As sin and death entered the world through one man, the failed gardener of Eden, now life flows from the resurrected Christ. Mary sees this man she thinks is a gardener and asks him where the body is. She still does not seem to recognize him. Then Jesus, who had spoken life and hope and peace to her brokenness, breathes out her name, Mary. He says her name and at once her eyes open to him.
This raises questions for us. What soil needs to be tilled in our lives? What have we written off as no more than dust and ash? Where have we thrown our hands in the air and doubted that anything could be done? In our marriage or work? In our parenting? In the face of poverty in our communities? Or is it even deeper — perhaps in despair over death itself? Where have we fallen prey to definitions of what is “realistic,” or the world’s narrative of what is possible and impossible?
We claim to follow a Lord who overcame death itself, who stands ready to make green things grow. He stands with his shovel to till the soil of our lives.
Alleluia! The New Adam is here. Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Look It Up
Read John 20:15-16 and see the Lord.
Think About It
What is realistic?