This is one of my favorite lines in all of scripture. In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is standing outside the empty tomb early on Easter morning. Nothing makes sense. She is exhausted, frightened, confused. All she really wants to do is finish the work of burying a man she loved and believed in. All she really wants to do is to take care of the small tasks that are hers to do and then go home again, perhaps to curl up, cry some more, and sleep. She isn’t looking for Jesus – at least not among the living, not among those who approach her in the dark morning, asking questions. She is looking for Jesus’ battered body so that she can clean it and wrap it and close the grave again once and for all. So, when someone does walk up to her on that dim and shadowy morning and when that someone asks her why she is weeping and whom she is looking for, she supposes him to be the gardener. Maybe in the light, the bruises look like dust, maybe it seems like dirt under his fingernails, not blood.
Or maybe … it’s that all along there was something about him that was in the real business of dirt and death and beauty and growth. Perhaps, all along, while he walked the roads, the seeds were being scattered that would take root and flourish, but only later after he had moved on. It’s possible that there was a hint of some gorgeous design that he could see, that you too could almost glimpse when he waved his arms at the landscape of what could come next. Maybe the sunburnt squint was reminiscent of a way of looking out at the horizon and imagining deserts in bloom, despoiled gardens finally restored. And of course, he was never afraid of how hard the labor would be – turning over the rows, digging down below to see what might be hidden in the depths.
Supposing him to be the gardener, Mary Magdalene turns and, still sighing, asks for help finding the body. And he calls her by name, and she sees him. Her gardener, buried and risen. And she is still tired and still bewildered, but now there are colors where there were shadows. And her eyes are still bloodshot, but she reaches out to touch this vision, this visionary. Is it possible that she can see blossoms she had missed as she trudged toward the tomb just a little while before? Now the work is not to clean it all up and put it all behind her, but to look forward and to dig in to this beautiful world. Now the task is to tell anyone who will listen about the possibility of new life, about the wild vision of the master gardener. Supposing him to be the gardener, seeing him for who he was all along.