The joy of serving a risen Savior can often be overshadowed by seeing suffering and death all around. From a shooting at a traffic stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to kidnappings in Kaduna, Nigeria, to the war in Ukraine, the words “O death, where is your victory?” can sometimes ring hollow (1 Cor. 15:55).
From Garden to Graveyard
But recently I saw anew the shift in Scripture from garden to graveyard, and then graveyard to garden. Eden moved from being a garden to a graveyard in the recounting of the fall in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, who were created to work and care for the garden, suddenly knew death. The garden that was created for flourishing and life had the shadow of death cast over it.
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken (Gen. 3:22-23).
From that time on, the world knew daily the reality of the graveyard.
From Graveyard to Garden
But then Jesus came to earth, lived and died, and was buried in a tomb located in a garden. He defeated death in that garden. And the first person he appears to, Mary Magdalene, confuses him for a gardener.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him” (Jn. 20:15).
And as it turns out, she was not mistaken. Our God and Father, and Jesus the Son, are indeed gardeners.
God as Gardener
In Genesis 1, we read over and again the words that God used to describe the creation of this world. But in Genesis 2, we hear different verbs describing how God worked.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food (Gen. 2:7-9a).
“The Lord God formed…the Lord God planted…The Lord God made…”
God didn’t simply use his voice in creation. God got his hands dirty while making humanity and the garden.
During Jesus’ time on earth, his hands got dirty again. Very dirty. Calloused, splintered, and injured as a carpenter for 18 years, and then scarred as the nails pierced them, the result of an unjust trial, sentence, and execution.
You can’t garden from a distance. You must get your hands dirty in the soil. And thankfully, God does not garden from a distance. We are told in John 5:17 that, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”
Let’s Get Our Hands Dirty
And each of us, in our own gardens, cannot garden from a distance. And so, our hands get dirty with the invasive species of sin that has filled our own gardens: in our homes, churches, communities, nations, and world.
Death has lost its victory and has lost its sting. The graveyard has become a garden again.
We lament when there is death and sickness and suffering. We lament when there is war and kidnappings and fear.
But we do not despair. We do not grieve as if we have no hope. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Rather, we join the God who saved us by getting his hands dirty and continue to get our own hands dirty. We get in the dirt, we pull the weeds, we plant the seeds, we labor as gardeners using our time, treasure, and talent.
And in so doing, we strive to join with our Father in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, a little bit at a time.
I am thankful for a working God, willing to get his hands dirty and inviting us to do the same.