First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ September 11, 2022)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“In the Garden!”
This morning we come to the end of our journey exploring some of the key places we encounter as we read the gospel’s account of the Jesus story. I hope you’ve been blessed by every step of this profound journey. I bet we will never read the gospel the same way after reflecting on all of those places. In this series of messages, we had the chance to visit several places such as: Cana of Galilee, Nazareth, Capernaum, Samaria, Caesarea Philippi, Bethany, Bethesda, Nain, Gethsemane and Golgotha. We cannot wrap up this series without reflecting on Christ’s encounter with Mary Magdalene at the Garden.
Of all the places we read about in the New Testament, the Garden, where the body of Jesus was laid after His crucifixion, was a turning point for the disciples of Jesus Christ. The Garden was supposed to be a place of despair and sorrow, yet it became a place of hope and rejoicing. It was supposed to be a place to cherish the legacy of a deceased Rabbi, yet it became a place to encounter the very presence of the Risen Lord. It was supposed to be a place of death, yet it turned out to be a place full of life.
In the garden. What do we get to learn as we visit the Garden Tomb this morning? Two lessons that I would like to highlight as we meet Jesus in the Garden this morning.
First: In the Garden, we are not Alone
The last 72 hours before Easter morning were extremely difficult for the followers of Jesus. Think about it this way: their world literally collapsed. They lost a good friend; a compassionate Rabbi; a grace-filled leader. They are grieving the loss of Christ. They were confused. Their trust in God was shaken. They were puzzled over the crucifixion and death of the Messiah. Why did God allow this to terrible thing to happen?
Mary Magdalene, one of Christ’s followers, comes to the Garden Tomb early in the morning to anoint Christ’s body with spices, according to the Jewish rituals. She is exhausted physically and emotionally. She is lonely. She is broken. She is perplexed. Yet, in the Garden, we get to know that in our grief and brokenness, in our loss and despair, we are not alone.
In 1912, Charles Austin Miles, an American Pharmacist and hymn writer, who was a resident of Pittman, NJ, and by the way he is buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park in Swell, wrote the famous hymn, “In the Garden.” Yes, in the garden, in our grief and despair, we get to realize that we are not alone. It’s there, in the garden, that we feel the presence of the Lord. Austin Miles spoke about this transforming truth in the chorus as he says, “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
Second: In the Garden, we are Called by Name
In the Garden, desperate, confused, and helpless Mary sees Jesus for the first time after His resurrection, but she mistakenly thought He was the gardener. Jesus was there right in front of her eyes, but she couldn’t recognize Him. She even had a conversation with Him, still failed to recognize Him. This could happen to us too. Jesus walks with us all the ups and downs of life, yet still we fail to see His presence.
Then, in our inability to recognize the presence of God, the grace of God abounds. Even when we fail to see God in the happenings of life, God never fails to see us and calls us by name. In John 20:16 Jesus turns to Mary and says to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). It’s not Mary Magdalene who finally recognizes Christ’s voice, rather, it’s Christ who calls her by name. The true blessing is not we know Him, but He knows us.
This is not clear in our English translations, but when Jesus addressed Mary Magdalene, He spoke her name is Aramaic, “Mariam.” Hebrew was the formal language of the Jews, but Aramaic was everyday language; the language amongst friends and families. That’s how Jesus knows us: intimately, completely, deeply, knows our names and nicknames, knows our hurts, and knows our ticklish places, knows the things we try to hide, knows everything we need, and comes to us, speaking our name in the language we best understand.
Friends, when you find yourself in your own garden overwhelmed by grief and sorrow, may you never forget that you’re not alone in the garden. More importantly, may you hear the comforting voice of Jesus speaking your name in a language that you understand. This very day, September 11th, 21 years ago, was like a garden of grief, pain, and sorrow for the United States of America. Yet in the midst of our grief and loss, we have found refuge and strength in our God. At the garden hope revived. “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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