Freshly risen from the grave – and I know that I am ahead of myself here, but bear with me – Jesus is thought to be the gardener. We take this to be a case of mistaken identity – Mary cannot see clearly through her tears, cannot think clearly in her disorientation – but it is not; at least, not exactly.
Throughout most of the Gospels, we are presented with Jesus’ false self – that is to say, the self that is constructed by the expectations placed upon ourselves, by others and by us; expectations we try to live up – or down – to. Jesus consistently refuses to take such expectations on board, at every turn chooses to listen only to the voice of the Father. You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased. Nevertheless, the Gospels present us with the false self that others ‘see’ and seek to place upon him. The satan, or Accuser. Jesus’ family. The crowds. His disciples. The Pharisees – both those who are drawn to him, and those who oppose him. Even in their moments of deepest revelation from the Father, Jesus’ followers do not see him as the Father sees him; do not see his true self.
When Jesus dies on the cross, and is laid in the tomb, his false self – the expectation that he will lead a popular uprising to overthrow the Roman army of occupation; to overthrow the puppet king and restore the royal house of David; to bring about reform of the corrupt Temple authorities – dies.
When Jesus is raised from the dead by the Father, his false self remains dead: like the grave-clothes in which he had been embalmed, pressed onto him, weighing down on him, outwardly conforming to his shape but in fact seeking to conform him to the expectations of others.
It is his true self that rises. That is why, again and again in the accounts of his resurrection appearances, we are presented with one who is definitely Jesus but not immediately recognised.
And when Mary sees Jesus’ true self, she sees the gardener. Why? Because, as Paul will write in years to come, his true self is the Second Adam: the human placed in the Garden to tend to it, to irrigate the earth and enable all life to flourish, in unbroken partnership with God.
As we approach Holy Week, we hear again the call of Jesus, take up your cross and follow me. As we come to Good Friday, we are called to die with Jesus. To see our false self – at least, something of it; for this is the work of a lifetime – surrendered into the Father’s hands, and dying under the cruel weight of human expectation, in the hope that what will emerge from the tomb is – something more of, degree by degree – our true self. For our true self is not who we offer to God, but who God offers to us.
What expectations of us need to die this year?