The shouts of Christ’s rising slowly fade into the background. Another Easter has come and gone. The sardonic slice of my nature can’t help but remember the old joke about the fellow who only shows up for worship on Easter. Finally at the end of one glorious Easter service he greets the pastor. “Pastor” he says, “It was wonderful but let me offer some advice. Every time I come you preach on the same subject – the resurrection of Jesus. Why don’t you try something different next year?”
We are so tempted to move quickly on. I want to argue instead that in the “Great 50 days” between Easter and Pentecost we must take up residence in the resurrection joy, truth and triumph of Christ. Let’s pitch our tent in the King’s garden.
I invite us simply to make the connection between the Eden Paradise of Genesis (the first garden!) and the tragic fall of sin and expulsion from the garden of paradise. Now continue to draw the line from the fall to the incarnation. Recall how the Apostle John speaks of it in the great opening overture of the Gospel of John. “The Word became flesh and made his home among us” (John 1:14). The phrase “made his home among us” comes out of a nomadic culture. It means literally “pitched a tent among us.” Now continue to draw that line to the crucifixion.
Do you recall the scene from Luke 23 as Jesus speaks on the cross to the thieves crucified with him? “One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, ‘Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43).
On our trip about year ago to the Holy Land, one of the guides noted that the word “paradise” means “the king’s garden.” I checked his assertion when we got home. Sure enough, The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible notes that “paradise” is a word that comes from the Old Persian. “It [was] developed to signify a beautiful garden, like a king’s garden” (The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Me – R, Volume 4, p. 377).
Continue to draw the line from the cross to the resurrection. Through the resurrected Christ we are offered a way back to Eden, to the King’s garden. By way of review, the sequence goes like this: Paradise (Eden) -> the fall (sin) -> the incarnation (Christ with us) -> the crucifixion (the high watermark of sin!) -> the resurrection (an invitation to live in the King’s garden, in paradise).
We make a serious mistake when we limit the concept of the resurrection to simply something about life after death. Theologically we know the resurrection is about the defeat of sin, hell, and death. It is about new life in Christ now and for all eternity. Our life as a disciple is to be connected with the understanding of our living in King’s Garden and for the transformation of the world into a garden fit for King Jesus – “on earth as it is in heaven.” There is a here-and-hereafter element to our Easter proclamation.
Take up residence in the King’s Garden. Christ is Risen! Comments the great biblical scholar N. T. Wright, “The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God’s purpose or rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos” (Wright, Surprised by Hope, pg. 184). No wonder our task (mission) is to complete the line drawn by “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!” The King’s Garden awaits!