October 22, 2017

In the Garden

Christ appearing Ryder

Christ Appearing to Mary (detail), Ryder

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

Je­sus said to her, “Mary!” Just one word from his lips, and for­got­ten the heart­aches, the long drea­ry hours….all the past blot­ted out in the pre­sence of the Liv­ing Pre­sent and the Eter­nal Fu­ture.

– C. Austin Miles, 1912

* * *

The hymn “In the Garden” has caught a lot of flak over the years for its sentimentality and its “me and Jesus” lyrics. One critic who expressed his conviction that the church has forsaken a robust hymnology and replaced it with insipid ditties bewailed it as a “mawkish little rhyme about someone’s personal experience and feelings.”

I get the criticism, but I also understand why some people find comfort in a hymn like “In the Garden.” It was my grandfather’s favorite and we sang it at his funeral service years ago. As a hospice chaplain I am asked to include it in such services regularly. I don’t care for its waltzy tune (especially when played on a bad organ at the wrong tempo), and the refrain tends to distract from the Gospel story on which it is based. Still, it is based on a vivid and memorable resurrection appearance which took place in a garden, and the mood of the biblical narrative is also tender and personal.

But Mary stood just outside the tomb, and she was crying. And as she cried, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white who sat, one at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had lain.

The angels spoke to her, “Why are you crying?” they asked. “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him!” she said.

Then she turned and noticed Jesus standing there, without realising that it was Jesus.

“Why are you crying?” said Jesus to her. “Who are you looking for?” She, supposing that he was the gardener, said, “Oh, sir, if you have carried him away, please tell me where you have put him and I will take him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” At this she turned right round and said to him, in Hebrew, “Master!”

– John 20:11-16 (Phillips)

Christ appearing RyderThe Gospel of John has long been favored by evangelicals and those who emphasize a “personal relationship” with Jesus because it is filled with intimate encounters like this one. John portrays Jesus as one constantly engaged in conversation with individuals, speaking words of salvation and peace.

Whatever concerns I have about evangelicalism, I don’t ever want to lose this. One thing the resurrection means is that Jesus “walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.” In the Upper Room, the Savior made promises to his disciples about what the resurrection would mean for them, and he spoke in the most personal and tender of terms:

“No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

– John 14:19-21, NLT

So then, one of the quiet, unexpected features of Christ’s majestic victory over the forces of sin, death, and hell is that he applies his great triumph by meeting us individually, in quiet places, whispering our names, and assuring us that we are not alone.

I understand why people might want that sentiment expressed at a funeral.

I can see why I might need that today.

Not What We Might Expect
A Series for Sundays in Eastertide, 2

Comments

  1. Sorry, but all I can think of is the little boy who stated that he knew God’s first name…..

    Andy walks with me, Andy talks to me, Andy tells me I am his own!

  2. I love that hymn. But then, I love most hymns. I love to sit at the piano and play them. My 84 year old Dad loves it when I do that. He has a very vast repository of them in his memory. They bring great comfort. I read and sang hymns as a hospice nurse. I had a little pocket sized hymnal I carried with me. My pastor was the hospice chaplain for a while. He has a fantastic memory and could sing many verses with a very beautiful tenor voice. It was a beautiful thing to witness.

  3. My late mother loved this hymn too, and I think it was partly because she was an avid gardener. I just always thought of it as an “elderly lady’s hymn” and didn’t realize it was theologically questionable until a few years ago.