"Supposing him to be the gardener"-Sermon for Easter Sunday, John 20:1-18
I want to begin my Easter sermon this morning by showing a video clip from the documentary film “The Biggest Little Farm”. I am a big fan of the film and highly recommend it. The clip is a reflection on the gift and power of healthy soil that when tended and cared for produces abundant life in this world where all of us live and move and have our being. So here goes…(n.b. the clip is found at the 1:18 mark in the film which is streaming now on Hulu).
So, with those images and words taking root in our hearts and minds, I want to continue by suggesting that good soil is the birthplace, the genesis of all biological life. Healthy soil is literally alive and it provides the nurture…that is the water, space, warmth and nutrients…that seeds require to grow and thrive…seeds that will sprout forth to make grasses and plants and trees that produce the literal air we breathe…and the food that both we and the livestock that we depend on…need to grow and thrive.
Moreover, the fruit that healthy soil produces is the very thing that we gather around as families and friends and communities to celebrate the wonder and joy of life, the food around which we connect with one another…and in doing so fall more and move in love with each other. Thus, our Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter feasts, our birthday dinners and cakes, the casseroles we bring to grieving friends that are an expression of our care and love and support for them in their time of great need, and all like gatherings, celebrations, and remembrances that blessedly happen in our lives, literally find their beginning in the dirt under our feet. Therefore, the soil, which we should care a whole lot about and nurture with great care and affection, feeds not only our bodies, but our very souls. For our ability to love God and one another…our ability to do and to create…our ability to live a healthy life full of purpose, meaning and direction…all of this begins in the dirt…in good soil…in the subterranean sources of life.
And what we also discover in the film is that healthy soil is where dead things are broken down, rearranged, and are resurrected back to new life. That which looks like it is all used up…that which has fulfilled its purpose and is dead and gone on the surface is utterly transformed in the ground into a new sort of abundant life…food and energy for plants and animals alike…that they and we might thrive and grow. Thus, the decomposition and then resurrection of dead things in the soil is the very beginning of our food chain, of life as we know it. Truly, one could say, that all of God’s creation has no end…it is more circle than straight line…it is eternal and everlasting. Thus, all of creation, if we but listen with the ears of our heart and see with the eyes of our heart, shouts out to us…life. God created a world full of life not death…an eternal sort of life over which sin and death has no power. Thus, the soil beneath us points us directly to that which we so joyfully celebrate today…Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead.
And it is for this reason, that I lift up soil, good soil, living dirt, as an Easter image for us this morning. For what is true about the earth is true for our spirits. On Good Friday we remembered Jesus’ death and his body placed in the ground…in a whole dug in the side of a rocky hill. And on the third day, the God of life and love resurrects him to new life. Jesus emerges from the soil in the greatest proclamation of all time that life is stronger even than death. But that’s just the beginning of the Easter story. For, as scripture says, Jesus is not the last or only one resurrected from the grave, from the ground, from the tomb, from the earth…but the first. You see I think of Easter as a planting of sorts…in us…and in all who are made. On Easter, along with his physical body, Jesus’ Spirit springs forth from the earth, the seeds of new life, of resurrected and eternal life, take to the four winds. At Easter, the seeds of resurrection are scattered generously across the face of the earth…falling on all of us…on all of our good soil…our good souls.
As we remembered way back on Ash Wednesday, when we began this journey to the cross and on to the empty tomb, we are dust…we are dirt…on which Jesus’ Spirit, the seeds of resurrection, now fall. We are like the parched and cracked earth that the farming family in the documentary I began with finds when they first purchase their land. The dirt seemed good for nothing…not a living dirt, but entirely absent of life…absent of the living things alive in soil that make decomposition possible…impervious to life giving water…not good for growing food or much of anything. But all of that changed…a miraculous transformation was indeed coming. And, as the farmer suggested in the clip we watched, the glorious transformation of the soil from death to life all began with planting seeds…a sort of ground cover…that with some good old-fashion hard work and water sprouted roots that began to break the soil down…allow it to begin to receive and hold water…making space for living things to enter in…allowing the miracle of decomposition to begin to take hold.
And, this is our work…the work of opening up our dirt…moving it around a little bit…and this looks like opening our eyes to the wonder of God’s world…its spring-like, God-given proclamation of life that’s all around us… like prayer…like a profound gratitude for God’s own love we receive from each other…like a heart that is broken open by both the pain of our current moment in time and the beauty that is also present in our current moment in time…all around us. And then the miracle of Easter is able to take root in us…the seeds of resurrection…Jesus’ own Spirit that flung forth from the earth at his rising…takes root in our own soil…and living things begin to make a home in our lives…the miracle of decomposition begins…dead things are broken down and love begins to emerge in us…and we ourselves become the living miracle of resurrection. What once was dead is now alive…and from that living soil in us, indeed, much good life-giving fruit begins to grow…like the 9 billion microbes living in just handful of good dirt…countless forms of life and love begin to emerge in us.
And, that’s Easter’s work…Jesus’ resurrection work…his own Spirit planted in us and it looks like…an infectious hope that springs forth in us and out into the lives of those who need it. It looks like that intuition to ask someone around you how their day is going when you can see the stress on their face. It looks like a generosity that leads you to sitting down with your budget to figure out, even in these uncertain economic times, how to offer more support to that non-profit that is serving those who are more deeply affected by our current crisis than ourselves. It looks like the desire to plant trees, when we can get out again, in urbans desserts that desperately need shade. It looks like following up on that inclination to take a walk, go on a bike ride, begin a garden, or plan a zoom gathering with old friends or distant family. It looks like figuring out how you can support a local foodbank or even share a favorite recipe on-line. And it looks most of all like feeling so rooted to God’s love in Christ that it feels like your heart just might burst wide open with joy and confidence and courage and hope.
This is what Easter promises…not just one man returning from the grave…not just the soil disturbed in that place alone…some 2000 years ago on the other side of the planet. Easter promises that, in Jesus’ rising from the dirt of the earth, God’s seeds of resurrection, God’s Spirit has been spread to the four winds…settling on all human hearts…that we all might be utterly remade…from the hard, life-less, cracked dirt, full of sin and death…into good soil, living dirt, that breaks down what is dying in us and resurrects it to something entirely new…a life in which we get to feed with our hands and our hearts all who come to us hungry…with the good fruit produced in our good soil…our Easter-like good souls. Amen.