I grew up in a small house with a very large backyard, much of which was a meticulously planned and cultivated garden tended by my dad. The garden was such a fixture of my life that I didn’t realize most people didn’t grow up picking raspberries, throwing fallen apples at the big cottonwood tree, harvesting cherries before the birds got to them, and making carrot cake with fresh carrots for my mom’s birthday.
When we were looking to buy a home a little over a year ago, I told our friend and realtor that I wanted room for a garden—maybe chickens—to which he replied, “you’ve been watching that woman, haven’t you?”
While I knew immediately which woman he was referring to, Joanna Gaines wasn’t my inspiration for gardening. I had watched my dad daily participate in the life of our land, the growing of foods, delighting in flowers in bloom, and anticipating the ripening of his prized tomatoes. But even more than that, the desire to cultivate and slowly grow beautiful and new things is what it means to participate in the Kingdom of God.
The first place we see Jesus after his resurrection is in a garden. When Mary goes to Jesus’ tomb in John 20:14-15, she turns “around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know it was Jesus…supposing him to be the gardener.”
I always flew past this line in anticipation of his revelation to her and her response to realizing her Lord was alive. I always assumed that she thought he was the gardener because who else would be wandering the area at that time? But perhaps this mistaken identity was no mistake at all. Jesus was the gardener; Jesus is the gardener.
Gardening is a metaphor used throughout the Scripture to illustrate how God interacts with His creation. In Isaiah 5, the gardener destroys the vineyard representing Israel because of their disobedience, but promises that out of the ruins a new shoot will bud, a new life of communion and union with God will grow and will never cease (Is 11).
Jesus describes himself as the vine and us the branches who are dependent upon him for all of life. He also promises to prune the branches that are not bearing fruit, ensuring that each plant in his garden will reach maturity, flourish, and bear the fruit they are intended to bear (Jn 15).
Jesus even refers to his coming death in terms of gardening when he says, “Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
But even more than a metaphor God uses to describe human relationship and development in Him, the story of God begins with the garden, the place that God chose to make for his people and dwell in their midst, and ends with new creation—a restoration of all things, the Edenic glory and beauty and wonder that we were made for perfectly restored. Our heritage was a garden, but it’s our future too. This is why GK Chesterton says,
“On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of a gardener God walked again in the garden, not in the cool of the evening, but in the dawn.”
Jesus, our Master Gardener, is doing a new thing. He is recreating the torn down vineyard of Isaiah 6; he is rooting and establishing new life so that it might grow and flourish; he is pruning and tending and delighting in new growth. But he also invites us into his work—to take up his work, to garden alongside of Him as those who also cultivate the Kingdom of God.
As you pluck ripe tomatoes and grate zucchinis for bread, remember that you are participating in a much larger work. We are laboring with the Great Gardener, tending to the coming Kingdom of God, and delighting in the beauty of God’s creation as we patiently wait for the fullness of all creation to be restored (Rom 8).