Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
It’s hard to read the Bible and not become a gardener: because gardens are central to our story. We begin in Genesis, in a beautiful place of innocence, life, creativity and newness. God walks the garden in the cool of the evening, crushing thyme between her fingertips and enjoying the heightened scent. Birds are settling into their roosts for the night; small sounds travel on the evening air; silvery leaves and white flowers seem to glow.
After Jesus’ death, God is again found in a garden. For in John’s account, when Mary Magdalene goes to the garden tomb at dawn, she finds it empty. Later, she encounters the Risen Christ: but she thinks he is the gardener. Perhaps he is holding secateurs and a spent blossom; perhaps he has a farmers’ tan; perhaps there’s dirt beneath his fingernails. Whatever, she is the first witness to his life, creativity and newness, and she runs to share the good news.
Then in the revelation of John, a vision which we are told is already being realized, the heavenly city fills the earth to create a garden city. A crystal fountain flows through the centre of town, and fruit trees line its banks. There’s good fruit for every month of the year, and so there’s always also blossom. No doubt the air is threaded with fragrance and the humming of bees; at dusk, bats make their velvet way through the darkling sky. The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations, and the city is filled with diverse people who are singing in perfect harmony.
All these gardens and more are brought to mind by Jesus’ promise, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ For paradise is simply a word meaning an enclosed park or garden: and Jesus promises we can be with him in this garden, today. The sin of Adam meant expulsion from Eden: but in Christ’s death and resurrection, all things have been reconciled. The consequences of sin have been overturned, the gates of paradise have been unlocked, and we are free to enter in. We can have moments in God’s reality – in the garden – which has already taken root here on earth and is growing towards fruition.
a garden prayer-dream
This week, then, I invite you to engage in a garden prayer-dream. Sit yourself down in a garden, real or imagined. Choose a place where you feel comfortable, a place where you can relax. Take some time to notice the sights, sounds, scents and textures of the garden. What is growing around you? What creatures live here? What birds are flying overhead? Sense the earth beneath your feet, its goodness, its creativity, its history, its fecundity. Take a deep breath, and exhale.
Now using your sacred imagination, ask God for a glimpse of the paradise garden, today. What do you see, hear, smell and sense now? Ask God to show you who else is in the garden with you. What will you say and do in the garden with them? Tell God about it and listen for any response.
Rest awhile longer, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the garden, and God’s loving presence flowing through them. When you are done, close with a gesture of thanks: perhaps a gentle nod. And if you are in an actual garden, if there’s a sprig, a flower, an herb free for the picking, why not bring it inside and put it in a place where you can see it throughout the day.
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