The Bible begins and ends in a garden. While these images may have surprisingly originated from Persia (Iran)—given no pre-exilic prophet speaks of them—their powerful influence throughout scripture and upon Western civilization cannot be overstated.
Isaiah 51:3 looks forward to the messianic age, the very one we claim was inaugurated by Jesus, where the experience of the wilderness will be changed to what was once joyfully received in Eden, our primordial Paradise.
Is it little wonder that on his last night of life, Jesus agonizes through yet more failures in a garden? Here, all his disciples sleep, except the one busy betraying him. All the while, he must bear the weight of the world’s sins with his obedience as the high drama in the middle of the night unfolds in the garden. His prayers, it seems, resonate with Paul’s description of the whole creation groaning and waiting for renewal and redemption (Romans 8:22).
In the beautiful imagery of John’s gospel, even more drama. Three days later, enduring torture and suffering execution, Jesus is found in yet another garden, this time victorious over all creation in a dawn still breaking forth from “a new tomb where no one had ever laid” (19:41). Even Mary Magdalene first believes “he was the gardener” (20:15).
These struggles in the garden give way to the revelation of the Risen Lord. Not only do spring and preparing the garden go hand in hand. Mixing the soil with our sweat and labor, tilling the ground, planting seeds and digging the grime out from under our fingernails are Lenten pastimes.
In our mechanized, pre-packaged, wasteful and convenience-driven culture, we have disconnected ourselves from the source of our living. We have exchanged air-conditioning for fresh air, colorful video pixels for God’s simple and daily masterpieces, and fast-food junk for the greater and more fulfilling satisfaction of holding in our hands something nurtured over time as a wonder to behold and a healthy feast to enjoy.
At Central Baptist Church here in Lexington, we are hoping for a re-discovery of this ancient, yet new practice of pooling our resources, time and talent by creating and managing a community garden on our own property. Our garden’s primary aims are to:
- nurture a renewed connection to the Creator God through activity with God’s wondrous creation;
- employ God’s original purpose for all humanity, having been restored by Christ, to act as good stewards and caretakers of God’s creation and each other;
- use our cooperative skills and provide mutual support for this project as an expression of witness to our children, youth and extended community;
- utilize our produce as a practical expression of our desire for healthier lifestyles and commit a portion of our bounty as benevolence and service to those with specific needs.
It is a great and exciting idea. This month we start building the beds. In early May, we plant the seeds. Then we’re off to the races: watering, weeding and watching. It will take all of us working together. Or, in the words of that supposed gardener, the “harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Let’s pray to the Lord of the harvest: Send us builders, seed planters, garden growers—laborers for the kingdom of God.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.