Happy Easter, everyone! I have two questions for you, please. First, who enjoys gardening? Everyone knows gardening has grown in popularity since COVID began. Second, if you’re like me and still don’t have an interest in gardening, do you enjoy visiting gardens? I love the peace and the beauty given by the harmony of water, trees, flowers, and grass. Gardens are a part of civilization, and part of humanity’s desire to sustain our life and enhance beauty in nature.
We’re talking about gardens, because there are three important gardens in the Scriptures. 1) The First Reading for the Vigil has the account of creation, and it says at the end: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:8-9). We see here three characteristics of gardens: beauty, life, and order (Fr. Paul Scalia, That Nothing May Be Lost, 175). The infinite beauty of God is reflected in the beauty of ‘every tree that is pleasant to the sight.’ ‘The Tree of life’ points us to the fact that we were never meant to die; Adam and Eve were created by the Father Who loved them and gave them eternal life, but they rejected it. And ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ reminds us that we’re made for order. We are moral creatures, free to choose good or evil, but we’re not free to change the order He’s given us—only God can determine right and wrong (CCC 396).
2) We heard about the second garden on Good Friday: “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden” (Jn 18:1). In this garden, we see a deeper kind of beauty: Jesus is completely overwhelmed by the prospect of the suffering that’s coming His way and wrestles with rejecting it. But, in a beautiful gesture of trust in the Father and love for us, He accepts it. Jesus tells us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, and, I would say, there’s nothing more beautiful. And wherever there’s love, there’s life. If there’s no love in our families, our families are dead. And then there’s order: Sin breaks the order God planned for us. However, when Jesus trusts and obeys our Father, order is being restored.
3) The third garden is where Jesus was resurrected: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (Jn 19:41-42). Jesus was resurrected in this tomb, in a garden. As we said five weeks ago, Jesus’ Resurrected body would be as beautiful as His soul. Furthermore, He again offers eternal life to humanity, and there’s restored order between God and man, and between body and soul.
Who said the following? “If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, [the Resurrection] is the greatest ‘mutation,’ absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history”. Pope Emeritus Benedict said this in 2006. A few people had been asserting that Jesus’ rising just meant that a corpse returned to life, and this would be ultimately irrelevant to us. But, the Resurrection is something more. And so the pope recognized that the Resurrection is both a historical and transcendent event. The crucial point of this analogy for us is that it’s a leap in existence, and Jesus wants to share this new life with us.
How does this happen? Through faith and Baptism. Faith changes everything: It allows us to know Someone Who loves us, and begins a relationship with Jesus. And then Baptism allows that leap of the Resurrection to come into our lives.
When Christa, Stephanie, and Matthew are baptized tonight, Baptism will leave a mark on their soul and that’s not symbolic. It’s a transformation to a new life, and, when they die, that life in Christ will continue forever.
4) So, there’s a fourth garden, that of the human soul. The Gospel of John says, “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb… She turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus… 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’” (20:11,14). She’s right: He’s the divine gardener of her soul. And, in each garden, the gardener always produces a leap: in Eden, there’s a leap from nothingness to life; in Gethsemane, from our disobedience to Jesus’ obedience; and in the tomb, from death to resurrected life. So, the divine gardener loves leaps! And He wants there to be a leap in our lives as well.
Jesus offers us a leap to a resurrected life! He also wants there to be a leap in faith, not a leap of faith, which to most people means believing in something that is unreasonable. Leaping in faith means trusting in Jesus in a more radical way. And this leads to more order.
A couple once was struggling in their marriage, and so went away for a weekend to discern things, and came back with three rules; and one of them was that Sunday would look different. It’s the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, and they wanted their children to know that Sunday is a day of worship, rest, and family.
Gardens have boundaries, and we try to prevent weeds from coming in. So, when we have Christ’s life inside us, we erect boundaries in our lives: There are certain sins we no longer commit, and there are loving habits that we always practice. God commands us to rest and celebrate Mass every Sunday. When we follow this order, there’s more life. And making these changes means leaping in faith!
He also wants a leap in love! Do you think of love as beautiful? Love is not only good, but beautiful. Many of you might remember that short video we showed about the woman who goes blind, and how her husband secretly sacrifices himself for her—that kind of love is not only good but beautiful. And that’s why God allows us to suffer, so that there can be an increase in love. Jesus puts manure into our gardens so that we grow! That’s why manure happens.
So, love is not only good, but beautiful. And sin is not only bad, but ugly. One time, I was talking to a friend, and she described some of her neighbours doing some kind of sin, and said, “Ugh.” I’ve never forgotten that, because I thought of that act as wrong, in an abstract way, but she saw it as ugly. And that points to the beauty of her soul.
I’m sure we’ve all strolled through community gardens and noticed the difference between certain plots and others. Some plots are full of care and attention, and the fruit they bear is amazing! That’s what Jesus wants in our lives, too!
After a few years of struggle, when he was 33 years old, St. Augustine finally trusted in Jesus and experienced complete freedom from his internal problems when he was in a garden in Rome. And St. John Bosco once had a dream of the most beautiful place he could imagine, with a crystal sea, magnificent buildings, and a garden. But he said that even that could not compare to what God has prepared for us in His eternal garden.