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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The gardener

See Jesus as Rembrandt does and see life's abundance

Rembrandt’s portrait of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene invites us to reconsider Jesus as the gardener.

The gardener receives little attention on Easter because we conclude that it’s a case of mistaken identity. We excuse Mary for “supposing him to be the gardener” because she is overwhelmed by grief and is greatly distressed that his lifeless body is missing from the tomb. Then Jesus calls her by name, and she cries out “Rabbouni!” as she recognizes him (John 20:15-16).

There is good reason we overlook the “gardener” and focus on Jesus’ true identity as the Risen Christ.

However, Rembrandt’s portrait doesn’t allow us to dismiss this gardener. If this is a before-she-recognizes-him picture, why didn’t Rembrandt also paint an after-she-recognizes-him portrait? There’s no mistaking it. See, Jesus is wearing a wide-brim hat and holding a shovel in his right hand. Christ is risen, and he is the gardener.

Granted, Jesus never said, “I am the Master Gardener.” But drawing from his teachings and parables, he is obviously well versed in gardening. Even if he never placed a seed in soil, pulled a weed or picked a vegetable, it’s indisputable that he is Master over the garden where he was laid to rest.

This garden near Golgotha is a contrast from Eden, the first garden. Adam and Eve failed to trust God and were ordered to leave. The Master Gardener gives us eyes to see that soul and soil, humanity and non-humanity, are redeemed. Life’s abundance flourishes through him.


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