Beyond the Garden

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A garden offers up its secrets generously, whispering renewal in scent, color, fruit and loam. A quiet garden, when listened to carefully, teems with stems stretching, buds unfurling, roots reaching deep; a symphony of life discerned below the surface of hearing. When I walk in a garden, some primal echo of perfection and innocence resonates within me.

“The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.”(Genesis 2:8 The Voice)

In the song of soughing breezes in tall aspens, Eden beckons.
Cool grass beneath bare feet marks a path to Paradise.
The very breath of Heaven sighs from sweet roses.

In a garden I begin to remember a place of utter delight. And just when that ancient memory stirs within, death overshadows. I see the weeds, smell the decay, know the serpent of sin hides beneath the leaves, waiting to deceive. In the cool of the day God walks in the garden of my soul, calling, “where are you?” Naked and ashamed, I have permitted perfection to be marred. But not beyond hope. Because there was another garden.

“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41 NIV)

In the shadow of the hill on which Christ was crucified grew a garden belonging to a rich man in whose own tomb the body of Jesus was laid. From the stark, sun-baked heights of Golgotha, Jesus was brought down to the cool, clean air of a garden grove. By law He should have been given a grave with criminals outside the city. Instead He was returned to a garden, much like the place where the ancestors of those who crucified Him were created.

The kernel of his dead body was pressed into the tomb, like a single seed into dark soil. For days it laid buried. Then a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life shed the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. And because of the death and resurrection of this sacred Seed, many will live to know perfection in eternity.

“Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

In a garden, the cycle of life/death/life speaks to me of deeper truths. When the earth appears lifeless in frozen midwinter I remember the garden in summer, alive with flowers, trees and birds, and know I have been given the sure promise of new life with Christ. Someday the dead shell of my body will be laid in the ground, but my spirit will thrive forever in a place of perpetual bloom. Paradise found because of a singular Person given in perfect sacrifice.

Burden of Innocence

Simon of Cyrene Drawn by the roar of an excited mob, Simon stepped out from a narrow Jerusalem street into a scene of mayhem. He had traveled  far from his home in Cyrene to celebrate Passover on the Temple Mount, never expecting to come upon such chaos on a Feast day.

Fists punching the air, voices yelling invectives, the crowd surged closer to the entrance of the Praetorium. Simon found himself absorbed in the seething throng, jostled and pushed until he was thrown up against the open gate.

The object of the crowd’s ridicule hardly seemed worth their fury. Surrounded by a company of Roman soldiers, a man beaten and bloodied beyond recognition struggled under the burden of a heavy beam. Simon winced at the gruesome sight of the prisoner’s back laid open by brutal flogging and his limbs purple and swollen from countless blows. He had seen condemned prisoners before but none tortured so viciously. The man’s face was a mass of open flesh where his beard had been plucked out; his brow gouged by the long, cruel thorns pressed on his head. Blood filled the hollows of his eyes, running down his chin to pool on the paving stones at his feet. Simon thought of his sons, Alexander and Rufus,  relieved they were not here to witness this atrocity.

“Crucify him! Crucify him!”, screamed the mob while soldiers goaded the prisoner forward through the gate. His clothing hung in bloodied shreds, still Simon recognized  remnants of the tasseled stole of a rabbi. Could this be the rabbi he had heard stories about ever since he arrived in Jerusalem? The one rumored to have healed the sick and raised the dead? Some even linked the title Messiah to his name. Surely he did not deserve this inhuman treatment.

Simon wanted to shut out the awful procession; close his eyes to the pain and blood, his ears to the labored gasps for air, his nose to the reek of sweat, but he could not. The prisoner sagged beneath the weight of the rough timber, stumbled then collapsed to his knees at Simon’s feet. Sentenced to die, he was forced to carry the beam of his own cross to the place of crucifixion but he could go no further.

Suddenly rough soldier hands grabbed Simon, shoving him toward the man on the ground, shouting at him to pick up the beam and carry it. He felt the sharp prod of a Roman spear in his side and knew he must obey or die. As he stooped to lift the blood-slick beam, the condemned man raised his head to look at him. Roaring mob, forceful soldiers, the smell of blood faded before that capturing gaze. The pain and suffering creasing the man’s brow and squinting his eyes could not diminish the absolute love blazing out. Simon’s heart suspended its beat for the length of that look, only to take it up again as a renewed heart, an alive heart touched by this almost-dead rabbi.

Hefting the rough wood across his shoulders, he felt sticky blood staining his hands but he was not repulsed. Instead, strength coursed through his limbs, enough to grip the beam with one hand, reaching down his other to help the bleeding man to his feet. The crowd parted as they moved towards Golgotha.

(based on Mark 15:21)