Last year, after we celebrated Easter, our first-grade daughter, who was suddenly on a story-writing tear, decided to write down an Easter account she could read to our family. She wrote seven pages full of great detail: Jesus on the donkey, Jesus in the garden sweating blood, Peter cutting off the guard’s ear, etc. She peppered her account with editorial comments such as, “Now, this is where it gets very sad,” or, “This is the last part,” and, “Now we can be happy because …" But otherwise she stuck closely to the biblical version.
I listened to her read it multiple times to various family groups, and I became used to her cadence and tone. But the last time I listened, as she got to the to resurrection part and read, “Mary heard a rustle in the garden. She thought it was the gardener, but it was Jesus,” I stopped her.
“Wait!” I interrupted. “Where did you get the word ‘rustle’?” My daughter looked at me blankly.
“I mean, did you make it up or did you hear it somewhere?”
My daughter shrugged. “I don’t know. Mary heard Jesus coming … it was a rustling sound.” And she continued reading.
I didn’t recall any Gospel account indicating that Mary heard Jesus coming, though surely it made sense. And in all my years at seminary (and there were 10, to be exact), I didn’t remember parsing the verb "to rustle" in any language. But something about my daughter’s version stuck in my brain. The picture niggled at me: standing in a garden, knowing a great wrong had been perpetrated, hearing a sound, realizing you were not alone—realizing someone was on their way.
I’d heard that story before.
Any time you are dealing with a garden in the Bible, you eventually land back in the garden—the first garden. My church friends and I like to play the game of linking every passage in the Bible back to the first three chapters of Genesis (church humor … we’re wild and crazy!) because every story always leads back there—back to God’s original plan for this world.
So I thought about the fall in the Garden of Eden at the exact point in time when Adam and Eve heard "the sound" or the "voice" of God walking in the "cool of the day." That word for "sound" or "voice" can be translated many ways, and probably "sound" or "voice" is best, but possibly in conjunction with the "cool of the day" it can even indicate thunder or a roaring, storm-like, wild sound.
Whatever the sound was, it was not a pleasant one. God wasn’t humming a little ditty about Adam and Eve. What they heard was the sound of the Holy and Almighty God on His way to the scene of the first human crime. It was terrifying. You can imagine Adam and Eve, scared and exposed, standing in the garden and hearing this sound of divine movement coming toward them. God approached, and they were terrified, as well they should be. After all, they’d just blown it for all of humanity, for all of time. It could not be worse. Plus, they suddenly were aware of just how evil, evil really was and just how much they’d lost. They stood there listening, waiting for judgment.
For God in all His power and might was on the move. He was on His way to bring judgment swift and true. And He executed that judgment by telling Adam and Eve they were banished from the garden, they were under the curse of death, and nothing they ever did could undo that.
And then a few thousand years passed—and there was another garden—a garden where Jesus’ tomb lay. And there in that garden was Mary Magdalene. She’d just seen the man she thought was going to be the Savior die. The Messiah who was going to be King was dead.
It could not be worse, and she was acutely aware of how evil, evil really was and just how much she’d lost. She was scared out of her mind about what could possibly happen next. She knew she was in big, big trouble because all she had believed to be true had been undone.
And this is where my daughter’s rendering helped me understand just what happened in that garden with Mary. Because just as Adam and Eve heard the approaching sound of the Almighty God of power and judgment, so too we can imagine that Mary heard a sound—a soft rustling—in the garden. Somebody else was there and standing right behind her.
It was Jesus. He’d come to bring judgment swift and true, and He’d executed that judgment by dying and conquering death itself. Now He offered a release from the curse of death by extending grace and eternal life. And like Adam and Eve, there was nothing Mary could do to be worthy of that; it was a gift freely given.
Two gardens. Two scary descents into death. Humanity teetering on the very brink of survival. Two darkest of days. Two judgments coming to those waiting in the garden, coming through the garden, rustling through the grasses.
And what went so dreadfully wrong in the first garden was totally, once and for all, reversed and overcome in the second. When God approached in the first garden, Adam and Eve hid from fear. When He came in the second one, Mary was overjoyed and relieved. Or, as my daughter more clearly wrote in her version, “Mary wanted to hold Jesus forever.”
Two gardens, yes—but one God. One God who judged the wrongdoing and pronounced the judgment to be death and then turned and took the judgment upon Himself.
At Easter, we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead, but we also celebrate that we don’t have to be afraid when we hear Him coming. We don’t have to live in a state of banishment from the garden; in fact, we can joyously look forward to the final garden—the new garden where we will welcome, long for and ultimately get to hear over and over, for all of eternity, the sound and the rustle of His approach.