Rev. Andrew Cunnington
12th April 2020
Journey’s End is Full of Surprises

When it came to the long school holidays, I enjoyed being lazy!

When he heard that I had nothing in mind to keep me out of mischief, my Vicar said that I should be appointed as Parish Gardener!

This meant going from house to house and tidying the gardens of those who were elderly and housebound.

He said he would sort out a rota for me.

I was hardly enamoured by this idea – but these were the days when if a Vicar asked you to do something – you would obey unquestioningly.

I set off on the first Monday morning in August pushing a squeaky wheelbarrow up our road, complete with spade, rake, fork and trowel purloined from the back of our garden shed.

My first port of call was Old Mrs Andrews. She used to sing alto in our choir – without any teeth – I seem to remember!

Now she was housebound. Her garden looked a challenge, especially to someone like me with no horticultural experience at all!

She greeted me at the door – wobbling on a walking stick.

“Come in and we’ll hatch a plan” she said.

A whole bottle of “White’s Lemonade” was waiting on the kitchen table and a plate of Jammy Dodgers alongside.

For the next two hours we sat and chatted about everything under the sun – except gardening!

“See you next week” she said when lunchtime arrived – and pointing at my wheelbarrow, left untouched by her door, “No need to bring all that with you” she said with a wink “The garden can take care of itself!

There are times in life when you set out on a journey expecting one thing – but the outcome turns out to be something quite different!

There is some confusion as to what actually happened on that first Easter morning, depending on which Gospel you read.

Mark and Luke both write about a group of women going to the tomb at the crack of dawn with the expressed intention of anointing the dead body of Jesus, and they are concerned about how they might roll away the stone to get inside the tomb.

Matthew has it that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” – whoever she was – just go to the sepulchre – presumably to grieve at the place where Jesus had been laid to rest.

In John’s Gospel, we simply have Mary Magdalene going alone – with no purpose in mind.

They each had an idea in mind when they set out. To mourn a dear friend, or was he a holy man to them, or was he a saviour, a Messiah or a king?

Whatever idea they had in mind, the outcome was not what they imagined.

Instead of grief and sorrow and death, they were to find hope and joy and life.

In fact in the stories we have that describe the gradual realisation that Jesus was alive, we find him continually butting in on the expectations of others and utterly transforming them.

Peter and the others decide to go fishing – but when they are in the middle of the lake – Jesus call out to them from the shore “I don’t want you out there – I want you over here”

Two of their number are on their way home to Emmaus when Jesus draws alongside of them and by the time the evening ends – they hear very clearly “I don’t want you out here – I want you back in the city”

Then all the disciples are together in an Upper Room, restless, unsettled and fearful and Jesus bursts in on them, he breathes his peace upon them – and the message they eventually get is I don’t want you sitting here in private – I want you out there in public.

All this seems to be about letting go of old ways. Having vision widened. Just when you thought the destination of your journey was gloom and despondency – it turned into something fresh and bright and full of new possibilities.

Let’s go back inside John’s Gospel where we find Mary weeping alone in the garden and Jesus appears as the gardener to her, but he turns out to be Her Risen Lord.

She instinctively reached out to hug him – but Jesus seems to recoil from the embrace “Don’t cling to me” he cries.

I don’t think Jesus was being diffident – I don’t think this is because his presence was not real, rather I think he is saying – don’t cling to the old way of seeing me. Things are going to be different now and they are going to be better.

And he shows this – by what he says next… those puzzling words that might make little sense to begin with…

“Go to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”

Brothers? Brothers? I don’t think this refers to any other offspring Mary and Joseph may have had – but actually, all the disciples.

In this Gospel we all move from servants to friends and now from friends to brothers and sisters.

And then I am ascending to My God and your God. A bit tricky to understand this – but what if it means – We can now know God the way Jesus knew God – and that must mean – part of our very selves!

Now that takes some thinking through!

My ears are pricking up in these days when I hear a lot about what we can learn positively from our experiences now, and the notion that we can’t cling to what life was like before, and that a new spirit is rising up about what’s important.

I say – not a new spirit actually, but one that has been buried away by the C21 lifestyle we had each found so alluring. A Spirit that has its foundation in the very celebration that Easter is all about, that draws us all to discover, like Mary Magdalene – how close God now gets to our very being.

We thought we knew where we were going on this journey. But the outcomes have shifted. as much for us as those first disciples who set out for the tomb and were amazed to find the stone rolled back – its as if scales have been taken from our eyes too , and somehow, it is for the church to articulate what the widening vision might add up to.

My mum came home from the Autumn PCC meeting to say that my name had been mentioned.

Mrs Andrews had written in to congratulate the Vicar on the introduction of the Parish Gardener scheme and what a benefit it had been to her personally.

But the thing was – during that whole month – I never ventured into her garden once…!

JOHN 20: 1-18