April 27, 2010

Anglican Leaders Welcome Anglican Church in North America

from the ACNA website

Document Actions The leaders of eighty percent of the World’s Anglicans from 20 Anglican provinces have affirmed that the Anglican Church in North America is “a faithful expression of Anglicanism” and welcomed them as “partners in the Gospel.” These leaders called for all provinces to “be in full communion with the clergy and people of the ACNA.” These statements were part of a larger communiqué from the Fourth Anglican Global South to South Encounter held at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore, April 19–23.

Archbishop Robert Duncan, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Anglican Church in North America, was grateful for the result and commended the communiqué to the people of the Anglican Church in North America. “We are moving forward in mission and relationship with Anglicans all over the world. Our unity and shared commitment to the work of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is a reason for great joy,” said Archbishop Duncan.

The communiqué also called for provinces in the Global South to “reconsider their communion relationships with The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada until it becomes clear that there is genuine repentance.” Leaders from the 20 provinces in the Global South openly rebuked the actions of The Episcopal Church, calling them, “a total disregard for the mind of the Communion…[and] contradict the plain teaching of the Holy Scriptures on matters so fundamental that they affect the very salvation of those involved.”

Global South Anglican leaders welcomed two Communion Partner bishops from within The Episcopal Church: The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence (Diocese of South Carolina) and The Rt. Rev. John Howe (Diocese of Central Florida). They recognized that these two bishops represent “many within TEC who do not accept their church’s innovations.”

The statements by the Global South come on the heels of a decision by the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA/GAFCON) to seat Archbishop Duncan on their Primates Council and to accord status to the Anglican Church in North America as the replacement province for both The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Statement from Bishop and Standing Committee

Sorry the link in the prior article didn't work. Here is the Bishop's statement:

Bishop and Standing Committee
25th April, A.D. 2010
IV Easter and St. Mark’s Day
Prepared for a diocesan-wide gathering of clergy, lay leaders and interested laity held at St. Martin’s Anglican Church, Monroeville, Pennsylvania.

Beloved in the Lord: Christ is Risen! Good Afternoon. Thank you for coming and for your abiding prayers and labors for our Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. Thank you also for your vision and commitment to transforming our world with Jesus Christ – together – as one Church of miraculous expectation and missionary grace.
Your Bishop and Standing Committee are very pleased to be here with you today to give a progress report and update on the defense and the mission of the fifty-five congregations and fellowships that are collectively the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

We have come to a remarkable clarity and unity about our path forward, both legally and missionally. It is this we want to share with you today.

Appealing to Caesar
We are convinced that appealing the decisions by the Court of Common Pleas in Calvary Church v. The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan et al. (the court’s final order issued on January 29, 2010) is in the best interest of all – and critical to the defense of – all the parishes of the diocese. Over the last six months, the Bishop and Standing Committee have thoroughly examined this course of action, together with a number of other legal options (including ending all legal action), and have given our lawyers instructions to press forward with the appeal as a result of this careful examination. Throughout all of the deliberations and debates about how best to proceed, in which countless voices have been heard, the over-riding concern before the Bishop and Standing Committee has been how best to protect your parishes and your mission.

The appeal will address numerous errors by the trial court, including how it treated the question of whether the diocese validly withdrew from The Episcopal Church. The issue of validity of diocesan withdrawal unavoidably includes validity of parish withdrawal. We expect a decision on our appeal in the first quarter of 2011.
Desire for Negotiation/Mediation

The Bishop and Standing Committee have also continued to seek a negotiated settlement throughout these months. Both formal (letters) and informal (conversations) means have been employed.

A Single Approach, But…
The Bishop and Standing Committee have come to a fresh appreciation of the importance of all parishes “hanging together, lest we hang separately.” On the legal front this means that the appeal of the Court of Common Pleas decision is the unified course of action for all parishes. Nevertheless, the Standing Committee has also foreseen the possibility that one or more parishes may be drawn to pursue an independent and alternative course as a result of peculiar local circumstances. The Standing Committee’s resolve in this is that such a parish – in order to protect the best interests of all other parishes – be respectfully urged to formally consult with the Standing Committee, and receive the Standing Committee’s endorsement, before thus proceeding. We believe that in this way true interdependence – classic Anglican “accountable autonomy” – can be exercised to the benefit of all and the detriment of none. The Bishop and Standing Committee also reaffirmed the position of the Anglican Church in North America and of our own amended local canons that “all parish property is owned by the parishes” without any trust claim by the diocese.
Cost Containment

The Bishop and Standing Committee are resolved to contain legal costs as effectively as possible. A single diocesan approach on behalf of all the parishes, rather than multiple parish actions, is one feature of this containment. Additionally, the renegotiation of rates, pro-bono consultation and the development of a multi-tiered legal team assists this strategy. Because the issues will be focused, and our lawyers are well-versed in the legal issues that will be addressed on appeal, our appellate legal fees will be substantially less than those at the trial court level. The Bishop and Standing Committee have a confidential fee agreement with our counsel.
Pay-as-you-go, but not from Assessments

Legal costs are being paid from gifts to the Staying Faithful Fund and from proceeds of the $200,000 external matching challenge gift announced in November. No funds are being taken from parish assessments to the diocese or from the operating budgets of the diocese or its parishes. All legal bills are paid as of this report. Services are closely monitored and pre-approved. Management is pay-as-you-go. We will not spend what we do not have.

Gifts to the Staying Faithful Fund
Gifts to the Staying Faithful Fund continue to be solicited and to be given. So far $112,803.32 has flowed through the Fund. The challenge grant increases the value of every gift by 50%. The challenge grant expires December 31st of this year, so giving now has the greatest impact. We do believe it is necessary to fight this fight, so we ask that each consider gifts according to their ability. There have been large gifts and small gifts. All gifts matter.

Time Frame
The best estimate of a time-frame for the appeal is 10 to 12 months. Much time is spent waiting for court dates. Because much of the research, approach and writing has already been developed in the first stage of the case, the costs on appeal are not expected to be anywhere near as great. As we have said earlier, The Bishop and Standing Committee do have a confidential estimate.

Moving Forward in Mission
The most important thing each parish can do is to move forward in mission. As a parish, whom are you called to reach? Is there an overlooked people-group, social need, or institution at your doorstep? What do you need to reach them? How important are your present buildings to the mission? Are there attractive alternatives? How much does the result of the diocesan appeal actually matter? Could your parish assign a small team to look at contingencies, while the vast majority of your congregation focuses on the mission? Can you shape and plant new congregations, can you draw new people, regardless?

Resources for Forward Motion
The Board of Trustees has shaped itself into “resource centers” on planned giving, continuation (contingency) planning, and strategic thinking. Contact information will be distributed today. A sheet of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) has been prepared by the Bishop and Standing Committee to help all of us get beyond anxieties about “the lawsuit.” The Bishop and Council, together with the Bishop’s Office (Bishop, Canon and CFO), are ready to help in consulting. So are fellow clergy and lay leaders from other parishes. Many of our parishes are already moving forward as if the legal uncertainties had already been settled. “Yes” the legal uncertainties are concerning, but “No” they need not hold us back. There are 55 parishes and fellowships, so there are 55 different missions to be undertaken. Each mission is distinct because each context is different, yet there are creative commonalities. And there are many new Anglican faith communities yet to be gathered right here in our midst. The lawsuit is a distraction – for now a necessary distraction – but the mission of the Gospel must be our abiding focus. Remember the 2008 Special Convention: “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” [Luke 5.4] Jesus’ direction to us is clearer than ever.

Parishes and Diocese Meet to Discuss Litigation

from the diocesan website:

Leaders from all 55 parishes met with diocesan leaders to discuss the ongoing litigation on April 25.

Leaders from all 55 parishes in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh met with diocesan leaders to worship and discuss the current status of the litigation with The Episcopal Church. Archbishop Duncan read a prepared statement, which addressed financial concerns, timelines, and the way forward in mission. Bob Devlin, chancellor for the diocese, and members of the standing committee responded to questions and concerns from parish leaders. Parish leaders were also given various resources to guide them in moving forward with their mission.

To view Archbishop Duncan’s statement, click here.

To view a Frequently Asked Questions sheet from this meeting, click here.

Key Anglican Leaders Sad Yet Hopeful About Future

The Fourth Global South Encounter met in Singapore last week to discuss the issues facing the world Anglican Communion. The article below gives a good account of where the world's Anglicans stand on the issues of the day. --Fr. Scott

The Christian Post
April 27. 2010

As a watching world wonders if Anglicanism is falling apart, major players in the Anglican Communion are assured of unity. But it is an assurance that is mingled with a deep sorrow.

These were recurrent themes in conversations The Christian Post had with most of the Global South archbishops and representatives. This paper had met them at a significant summit held last week at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.

For the Global South archbishops, there is no question about whether there will be a split in the largest Protestant communion.

“There is really only one Anglican Communion,” said the Most Revd. Henri Kahwa Isingoma of Congo. “It is the North American Churches that have gone far from the roots of our common faith.”

Isingoma went on to explain that the Global South is a ‘resistance’ movement to stem the tide of theological liberalism. For him and other archbishops at the meeting, the Anglican Communion is defined not by self-styling but by biblical orthodoxy.

The worldwide communion was thrown into chaos when two North American Churches started blessing same-sex unions and ordaining homosexuals as bishops eight years back.

Homosexuality is a sin in the official view of the Anglican Communion. While the Bible teaches that Christians should treat homosexuals with compassion, they are not to promote homosexuality.

“These things are there,” said the Rt. Revd. Peter Jasper Akinola. “But you don’t have to praise them, you don’t celebrate them, you don’t rejoice in them.”

Western Churches have abdicated their responsibility, said the immediate past head of the Global South. Akinola was also head of the 20 million-strong Anglican Church in Nigeria.

“They are not allowing the Church and the Christian ethics to influence their society and their culture,” said the Most Revd. Mouneer Hanna Anis. “They are allowing the culture and the context and the mores of society to come in and penetrate the Church.” Anis’ jurisdiction covers parts of Africa and the Middle East.

On one level, the problem appears to be the lack of a clear and universal articulation of the Anglican faith. Closely related to this is the lack of Communion-wide structures of real authority. The Anglican head, the Archbishop of Canterbury, exerts moral rather than functional authority.

The Anglican Communion has itself perceived this ‘ecclesial deficit’ and has proposed the adoption of an Anglican Communion Covenant.

But many archbishops to whom this paper spoke were convinced that the crisis is centred on the question of whether the Bible can be trusted.

Thinking themselves ‘enlightened’, Westerners since the 19th century sought to find another way of reading the Bible according to the Most Revd. Gregory James Venables of Latin America’s Southern Cone.

“Whatever they think is right in terms of modern cultural trappings will be made to supersede Scriptures,” said Bishop Akinola.

Global South leaders felt that the issue cannot be solved simply by setting up ecclesiastical structures.
“If we cannot wipe out sin in our hearts, no one, nothing, including the Covenant, can help us,” said the Most Revd. Stephen Thanh Myint Oo of Myanmar.

The Covenant can only be a ‘guideline’. It cannot replace the more fundamental covenant between God and individuals, said the Most Revd. Emmanuel Musaba Kolini of Rwanda.

Many archbishops see no hope of reconciliation.

Global South archbishops have tried for eight years to talk sense into their Western counterparts. They did this only to be unceremoniously rebuffed when one Church only recently elected a partnered lesbian as bishop.

While the Covenant is not likely to solve the current crisis, archbishops see its ‘futuristic’ value. But they feel that the document in its present form is not yet ideal for the Anglican Communion.

Archbishops are seeking to make the human sexuality clause part of the Anglican Covenant. They are also trying to make the Covenant a binding document. Their hope is that discipline would be vested in a council of bishops.

If this is achieved, the Anglican Communion would be able to prevent repeat occurrences of the tragedy it is facing, Akinola believes.

The Covenant has already been sent to Anglican Churches around the world for consideration and is awaiting adoption.

In the meantime, the Anglican Global South has opened a ‘decade of mission and networking’. Anglicans also plan to reform existing ecclesiastical structures to better reflect its global face.

They plan to achieve financial independence. This will reduce the possibility of other Churches influencing their theological convictions, noted Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas D Okoh.
Edmond Chua

April 23, 2010

Worldwide Anglicans Welcome ACNA

Anglican Church in North America
April 23, 2010


The leaders of eighty percent of the World's Anglicans from 20 Anglican provinces have supported a call to make the next decade a "Decade of Mission" and have welcomed the Anglican Church in North America as "partners in the Gospel" during the Fourth Anglican Global South to South Encounter held at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore, April 19-23.

Archbishop Robert Duncan, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Anglican Church in North America, was grateful for the result and commended the communiqui to the people of the Anglican Church in North America. "We are moving forward in mission and relationship with Anglicans all over the world. Our unity and shared commitment to the work of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is a reason for great joy," said Archbishop Duncan.

Speaking directly of the Anglican Church in North America, the gathered archbishops and representatives said, "We are grateful that the recently formed Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is a faithful expression of Anglicanism. We welcomed them as partners in the Gospel and our hope is that all provinces will be in full communion with the clergy and people of the ACNA and the Communion Partners."

The full text of the communiqui is available on on the Anglican Church website here:


April 13, 2010

Anglican Church in N America is Growing!

Anglican Church in North America
April 13, 2010


New Anglican congregations are springing up all over North America. Since the church's founding in June of 2009 with 703 congregations, an additional 106 new churches have either joined or have been planted by the Anglican Church, bringing the church's total number of congregations to 809.

"When we began in June of 2010, I issued a challenge that we plant 1,000 new churches in the five years of my service as your Archbishop. It is wonderful to see how much progress has already been made," said Archbishop Robert Duncan.

One of those new church plants is Restoration Anglican Church in Addison, Texas. The congregation, which began meeting last fall, hosts between 100 and 120 people for Sunday services.

"We just want to do church for the sake of others. We really feel we have a calling for those who are broken, those who are lost and those who are looking for a place where they can walk through life together and grow in faith with other believers," said the Rev. Jed Roseberry, Resurrection's founding priest.

Restoration has made that vision concrete by taking on projects such as working with another ministry to provide a Thanksgiving meal for 438 members of their community last November. They also have focused on introducing people to Jesus through an Alpha Course and other intentional efforts.

In everything Restoration has done, from finding a place to meet, to organizing their first worship service, Roseberry emphasized that God has made impossible things possible. "I have come to see and realize that God loves working in the realm of the impossible, because when he does, he gets all of the glory," he explained.

Church of the Epiphany in Hamilton, Ontario, is another new Anglican church. According to the Rev. Vicky Hedelius, the church began meeting on January 31. The congregation's initial membership stepped out of an Anglican Church in Canada parish. "We left everything behind, and we started fresh," said Hedelius.

A local congregation of another denomination agreed to let Church of the Epiphany use their chapel as worship space, and congregation members, led by their deacon, the Rev. St. Clair Cleveland, constructed new furnishings for the space.

Like Restoration, the people of Epiphany have learned a great deal about God's love and faithfulness to them, said Hedelius. "We stepped out naked, and he has clothed us All you have to do is take the first step, and He guides you on to the next," she explained.

Being part of the Anglican Church in North America is important for the people of Church of the Epiphany. "To be part of this movement of God's Spirit in our church is exciting, It's humbling, it's such a blessing" said Hedelius.

The Anglican Church in North America unites more than 100,000 Anglican Christians in 28 dioceses and 809 congregations. For more information about the Anglican Church, please visit http://www.anglicanchurch.net.

April 12, 2010

It's not primarily about doubt

on John 20.19-31
by Scott Homer

History has been hard on St. Thomas. We have just read a passage from the Gospel of St. John known as the “doubting Thomas” passage. The stock teaching on this passage says that while the other disciples were faithful, Thomas struggled with his faith but that is that really what is going on here? Well, not exactly. The truth is that not just Thomas, but all the disciples, struggled to believe. And that is understandable isn’t it? Isn’t it a little difficult to believe that Jesus died on Good Friday and was alive three days later? I have never seen anything like that happen have you? And so the disciples doubt their own eyes. They all doubt that it is actually Jesus they are seeing until Jesus shows them his wounds. And then, once they see his wounds St. John tells us that, “the disciples saw the Lord and were glad.” So, the Gospel this morning is not really about doubting. It is really about God’s blessing—about how God’s blessing will be administered to the world and how God’s blessing will be received by the world. What I am saying is that, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” God’s blessing depends upon belief, and belief is accepting that something is true, sight unseen. We think “seeing is believing.” We have been taught to trust our own eyes. Jesus teaches us to “believe without seeing,” that the blessing comes when we trust in what we have been told. And so, the fact is that none of us have seen Jesus firsthand but we have been blessed by believing the testimony of Peter and James and John, of Mark and Matthew and Luke. As the old children’s song says, “Jesus loves me this I know, cause the Bible tells me so.”

Now in our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus, good to his word, had come to visit with his disciples. He had told them, and apparently they didn’t believe him, that he would rise again from the dead on the third day. So, good to his word, he comes to them on the third day and stands in their midst, alive. Jesus has conquered death. He is master life and death no longer hold any power over him (or over his followers). And Jesus’ first words to his disciples are, “Peace be with you.”

I don’t suppose any of the disciples would have understood the immense importance of those first words spoken by Jesus, “Peace be with you.” Jesus was not exchanging a greeting with them. Jesus was declaring the new facts of life. The Peace that Jesus was declaring was the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Jesus declares to his followers that there is no longer any hostility between God and man. The war is over. The victory is won and peace has been restored. The sins of the world that had left humanity distant and isolated from the love of God, the sins of the world that had forced us all to live under a curse, destined to die, destined to eternal separation from God, the sins of the world were no more—they had been atoned for. They had been forgiven and forgotten. The punishment that God had declared on mankind had been meted out and all the prisoners set free. Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. We were now at peace with God, free to be his beloved children, free to live out our lives with joy. Peace with God is the greatest gift the world could have ever received. It is the gift that Jesus gave us on the cross. And equally great is the gift that we received on Easter morning, when Jesus proved to have power even over death itself. As his followers we can know freedom from God’s judgment and freedom from eternal death. And so, when Jesus says to the disciples, “peace be with you” it is the confirmation that they have received the greatest gift ever given—peace with God.

Now we spend so much time beating up on Thomas for his doubting that we usually miss what Jesus says to his disciples in this passage. After he says, “Peace be with you, he says “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” The Father sent Jesus to establish peace, to proclaim peace, and to reconcile the world to himself. Jesus says he is sending his followers out to do the same. Jesus is not interested in his disciples living their lives afraid, locked up in their private little rooms. Jesus never intended for us to be hunkered down in our little churches every Sunday morning. Jesus wants us to go out into the world. In the same way that Jesus was sent into the world, his followers are now being sent into the world. This is not the first time that Jesus sends his followers out to do kingdom work. It won’t be the last either. Jesus is always directing us to go out into the world and to witness to the power of the resurrection, to care for the poor, to heal the sick, and to bring blessing in Jesus’ name. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus; very last words to his followers is to, “Go out, and make disciples of the whole world.” Jesus’ message of peace with God is too good to keep to ourselves. It is a message that has to be shared with other sinners. It is a word that is not just intended for us here in this place. It is the hope of the world. It is intended for people everywhere who are suffering, alone, and downtrodden. It is for the rich and the poor. It is for the young and the old. It is for blacks and whites and Asians. It is not just for Christians. It is a message that needs to be spoken to Muslims, and Jews, and Buddhists, and Hindus, and Agnostics, and Atheists. Because true peace is peace with God, and true peace only comes through the resurrected life of Jesus. It is only when a person belongs to Jesus that the war ends and peace is restored—and that means that Jesus is always sending his followers out, always asking us to tell the story, always insisting that we witness to his power and always asking others to join us as his followers.

He is sending us out…and praise God we are responding. We have begun to go out. We have begun to invite family and friends, neighbors and coworkers. We have begun to share lunch with people we do not know, to have friendships with people different than us. We have begun to invite people on weekend trips with us. We have begun to go out, in small ways, and we will be seeking new ways of going out, away from this cloistered little building, ways to get our congregation out into the midst of the community around us where the message of God’s love can be heard by others—where Christ’s transforming power can be experienced first hand. I want to ask you to help us envision it. What would it look like? How would we begin to obey Jesus’ call to “go forth into the whole world?” Will you pray and ask God about it?

You see, that is the whole point of this story about Thomas. There is nothing unique about Thomas’ doubts. We all have doubts. The punch line of the whole story comes when Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The world is full of people who have never actually seen the Risen Christ, and they never will in this lifetime. Jesus says, a person doesn’t have to be able to see him, and to place their hands in his wounds in order to be blessed by him. In fact, the best blessing is reserved for those who do not see and yet believe. It isn’t just a handful of first century followers that get the blessing. It is the millions of people from countries around the world, people who lived in the Middle Ages, and people alive today. The blessing is for all of us who believe even though we have never received documentary evidence. When we believe in the miracle, when we trust in Jesus, sight unseen, we are the ones who receive God’s blessing.

But how will those who have not seen the resurrected Jesus ever come to believe if nobody tells them? This town is full of young people that have never really heard about Jesus. And you don’t have to go out to the “less fortunates” for that to be true. There are grandchildren of people in this parish who are growing up without ever hearing the Christian story. America is no longer a Christian nation, and even we in the church, even us who call ourselves Christians are woefully uninformed about what it means to be a Christian or what it is that Christians actually believe. We seem to think we can make it up any way we personally want it to be. That is why we have all this wacky theology these days. We need to get smart about our faith. We need to be able to tell the story—all of us, not just a select few—we all need to be able and willing to tell the story if we ever hope to win America back for the Lord. Jesus is always sending his followers out, out to tell the story, out to witness to the power and to ask others to join us as his followers. How will those who have not seen the resurrected Jesus ever come to believe if we do not tell them?

This is the real message about Doubting Thomas. It is the story written by St. John the Evangelist who came by his name honestly. He has written the story with a purpose. And he tells us what that purpose is, right at the end of our reading this morning. He says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”

We have been blessed because we have believed, even though we have not seen. And interestingly enough, when we believe without seeing, the power of Christ really does enter into our lives and transform us and our circumstances. When we step forward in faith and believe what we have not seen, God moves in tangible and concrete ways in our lives and so we are not left without our own testimony. We are being saved through the power of Christ, and as God’s redeemed people we are being called to go out and tell the world about the greatest gift the world has ever received, so that they too may know the immense joy and the tremendous privilege of being Christ’s own forever. Amen.

April 6, 2010

Life or Death in a Garden

By Fr. Scott Homer

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

There are three witnesses of the empty tomb in St. John’s account: Mary Magdalene, the beloved disciple (whoever he may be), and Peter. They have at various points in the narrative come to the tomb, witnessed the burial cloths still there but the body of Jesus gone. But St. John’s focus, and our focus this morning is on Mary Magdalene. This is the Mary that had traveled with Jesus and his followers for a long time. She had been possessed, we are told, by seven demons and she first met Jesus when he cast the demons out, and restored her to sanity and good health.

On the first day of the week, Mary roses early and she went to the garden. The accounts of the first resurrection sightings take place in a garden. We know this to be true because St John tells us, in chapter 19, verse 41, that, “In the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” And so Mary rises early and she goes to the garden—a garden devoted to life and beauty. She goes to a garden looking for the dead remains of Jesus. Interesting that Mary goes looking for death in the midst of life.

Gardens play an important role in the Scriptures. In fact, the first accounts of humanity and their relationship with God take place in a garden. We are told that God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. Jesus prayed before his arrest in a garden. And at the end of time, after the world is put right and Jesus is reigning on his throne, it is in a garden where we find the saints dwelling eternally. In fact the whole creation account, that long account of the creation of planet earth, and all the plants and animals that God has placed upon it, is the account of a very large, very intricate, and very spectacular garden being designed, created and maintained by the our God—the Great Gardener.

That’s the thing about gardens. By definition gardens are cultivated places. A garden must be tended. It requires an overseer. It requires a gardener. He sets boundaries around it, builds walls and fences to protect it. He decides on its design and arrangement. He cultivates the ground, plants the seeds in the places he knows they will best prosper. He cares for the tender shoots, trains up the young plants, prunes and shapes the more mature plants until finally the garden is complete and able to grow, until it finally bursts forth in flower, and the flower gives way to fruit and the gardener reaps a harvest. All of the gardener’s plans, all his efforts are intended to bring the garden into bloom and to reap a harvest.

Mary goes to a garden and in this garden there is a tomb. A tomb seems like an odd thing to be in a garden. I mean, a garden is a place devoted to life. A tomb is a place devoted to death and for most of us there is a firm line of demarcation between life and death—life is where we enjoy ourselves—death is where we…well, don’t enjoy ourselves. Life is where we receive all the sensory input that pleases us and death is well, not that place. We go to gardens to enjoy life. Gardens are places where seed is planted, where plants are cultivated, where flowers bloom and fruit is born. We go to gardens seeking life. We go to cemeteries and tombs seeking death, just like Mary did. But in the resurrection accounts, the followers of Jesus have to go into this garden to find the tomb where Jesus’ body has been laid. It seems that God knew that Jesus’ disciples would not understand the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection unless they witnessed it in a garden.

God places the glorious resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord in a garden because God knows that gardens are the perfect teaching tool. Gardens are born in just the same way that our new lives in Christ are born—through death and resurrection. Gardens are designed and built around a thousand little passions. Gardens take their life, get their color and bring fruit out of new life emerging from little tombs. Every time a gardener punches a hole in the soil, and drops a dead seed into that hole, the gardener has created a tomb, placed a dead lifeless thing into it, and sealed the tomb. What better frame could God provide for the most spectacular event, the most important event in the history of the world? In the garden Jesus’ resurrection makes perfect sense.

But seeing it for the first time, who would believe that placing a dead seed in a dead hole and covering it with dead dirt would generate life? That after a few days new life would come bursting out of the dead ground? It is beyond comprehension and yet we all know it is true. We can’t understand it but we see it happening all around us. We say it is too fantastic that Jesus should rise from the dead. Doubters think the resurrection claims are absurd, and yet how many of us will be planting seeds in our gardens over the next few weeks expecting plants to emerge—not hoping beyond hope that a miracle might occur but fully convinced that a plant will spring forth out of the dead ground precisely where we buried it?

Mary came to the tomb expecting to find death—or whatever it is we find when we focus our attention on death. And when she does not find the remains she sought, she begins to look around for them someplace else. She recruits help. The help looks and confirms what she already knows and they quickly abandon the project and return to their homes but not Mary. Mary is so devoted to finding the dead body of Jesus that when she sees Jesus alive, and he is standing right there with her, she does not even recognize him. She is so convinced that he is dead that she thinks he must be someone else. Why do we find it so difficult to believe? Why are we so devoted to making death an absolute that can not be overcome? I don’t have the answer. I only know that even the great saints who have devoted their lives to cultivating a relationship with Jesus and who know him intimately, are awestruck and overwhelmed by death, just like Mary. We all are. We are devoted to the idea that death is an absolute. And so Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus.

Mary thinks Jesus must be a gardener—interesting—she isn’t able to recognize her Lord—but in some vague way she understands that this person standing before her is someone who is devoted to life, who designs life, who toils to cultivate life, who cares for life, and who brings life forth from the dead soil. Isn’t it ironic that even when Mary gets it wrong, even when she isn’t seeing clearly, she is still witnessing to the truth of who Jesus is? She is unaware that she stands before the resurrected Christ but she thinks the right thought—she labels him correctly. She recognizes she stands before a gardener—or rather, we might say, the One Great Gardener, the one who designs, cultivates, tends and harvests God’s Creation.

Mary does not recognize Jesus as Jesus until He speaks her name. When he speaks and says, “Mary,” then she recognizes her master’s voice. It is when the Lord speaks our name that our eyes are opened to the truth—and the truth is that we spend our lives focused on the wrong things. While we are looking at the likely possibilities and trying to understand our existence based upon the inevitability of dying—while we fear death and design around it, God is doing the impossible. God is bringing new life from dead bodies. When Jesus spoke Mary’s name, and she recognized His voice, and she gazed into his revealed face, then Mary recognized that the impossible had happened, that her Lord had risen from the grave, that his claim that he would be resurrected was true, that life really does triumph over death, that in the hands of the Master Gardener we can hope to spring forth from dead ground.

We will not recognize Jesus as Jesus until He speaks our name. When he speaks our name we will see him for who he is. We will understand that in some way that we can not possibly understand, that does not fit into our world view, in a way that science can not measure, Jesus has conquered death, Jesus stands alive and well, he stands above all the fundamental systems of the universe and He acts in ways that only he can act, using means that only he can access. Jesus Christ does the impossible. And on that day we will understand that we live in a fabulous garden, designed by the Master Gardener and that God specializes in resurrection—the resurrection of his Son first, and then the resurrection of the whole world!

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!