“Naming the Unnamable: God as Greening Power”

Luke 19: 28 – 40 and John 15:5 – Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN

There are many people who find God in books, buildings, and even other people. I have found God in those places too, but the most reliable meeting for me has always been nature. I do not see any separation between Spirit and nature. In fact, seeing Spirit within Nature is humanity’s most ancient path of spirituality. From an early age is seemed obvious to me that the church of the Earth was the greatest church of all. If that makes me a pagan, then I am a grateful one.

I believe that it is no accident that the Bible opens with a garden in the book of Genesis and the Bible closes with a garden in the book of Revelation.  In the Bible, the garden signals nature at its best, human well being at its best, spiritual reality at its best. That is what Eden means – paradise. We gave the middle name “Eden” to our daughter – because she reminds us of the Garden of Eden. She is paradise to us – well, as much as a four year old can be paradise. Gardens in the Bible symbolize abundance, beauty, harmony, love triumphant, new life. I have experienced plants dying, and just when I think they are completely dead, they surprise me by coming back to life. Ah…the greening power of God. George Bernard Shaw says, “The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for God there.”

Surrounding us today are garden masterpieces. Gretchen Andrews, gardener extraordinaire, and I teamed together to create this year’s Lenten series entitled “Resurrection Gardens.” This particular Lenten series attracted nature lovers, tree huggers, and garden enthusiasts. The resurrection garden is specific to the journey of Lent. We began by preparing the soil. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, laying the foundation / the groundwork for his ministry. We did so, too. Our 40 day Lenten season is an echo of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. From dust we come and to dust we shall return.

We spent time meditating upon the Garden of Gethsemane and planted greenery and succulents in our gardens.  Another garden in the Bible, but portrayed so differently than the gardens of paradise. This is a garden of ultimate anguish, of suffering and betrayal, of arrest and violence. Yet, in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus cultivates his relationship with God, trusting in God in the midst of dire circumstances. It is there in the Garden of Gethsemane with the disciples that he speaks of the greening power of God. “I am the vine, You are the branches. You who abide in me and I in you, bear much fruit.”

The next day is known as Good Friday. Jesus is nailed on a cross. We put a cross in each of our gardens. Some put three crosses in their gardens.  We placed a stone in front of the tomb in our gardens, remembering the stone that sealed Jesus in the tomb. For those three days in the tomb were a significant part of Jesus journey – the journey of darkness is important. Darkness is pregnant with divine possibilities. A bulb buried in the dark, damp ground blossoms into a yellow daffodil, an orange tulip, a red amaryllis. In the darkness of a womb a baby grows. The earth-bound caterpillar emerges from the dark cocoon as  a monarch butterfly soaring high above the ground. And we have butterflies in our gardens to represent the gift of transformation.

But the tomb ultimately does not have the final word. For three days later in the dark womb of the tomb, new life emerged! The tomb is empty! And lying there in the tomb is Jesus’ linen burial cloth, folded, according to the Gospel of John.  Some of us placed a piece of cloth in our tomb, folded. I heard one scholar share that almost every Jewish boy would have known about the folded napkin in respect to the Master Servant relationship.  The Jewish servant boy would have set the table perfectly and just stand out of sight while the Master ate his meal.  When the master was finished he would get up from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table.  The servant would then clear the table because the wadded napkin meant, “I’m done.”  But if the master got up from the table and folded his napkin and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table because the folded napkin meant, “I’m coming back!” Perhaps John was saying that the linen burial cloth that covered Jesus’ face was folded because Jesus is coming back.

In the Garden of Eden after Adam eats from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that is the one fruit he is not suppose to eat, he tries to quickly cover himself. He is hiding behind his covering – no longer soul and body naked before God. But in the Garden of the Resurrection, we see that Jesus’ linen covering is tossed aside, folded. Jesus redeems us – letting us know that we can stand vulnerable, fully before God once again.

Interestingly, Easter coincides with the greening of the earth, with spring. Jesus is risen and the whole earth comes alive. The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation.

Our resurrection gardens are symbolic of Jesus’ life, of our lives, and of the whole earth. Sally McFague, a feminist theologian, says that the earth is God’s body. While there are some who are waving eco-palms this Sunday, that is, sustainably-harvested palms, we must not forget the passion of the week. If God’s body is the earth and the earth is under siege by global warming, deforestation, the spread of toxins, the chronic loss of habitat – then we must talk about eco-crucifixion. Our planet is undergoing an eco-crucifixion and it is imperative that we tell that part of the story as well. I know that we would rather not. We would prefer to go from palms to Easter lilies, from parade to parade and avoid all the messy stuff in between. But the pain of eco-crucifixion is real and the voices of those who suffer need to be heard.

“Native Americans continue to lose their sacred land sacrificed to the colonization of the oil and gas industry. Communities of color continue to be targeted for polluting industries and toxic landfills. Island nations such as Puerto Rico are raked by catastrophic storms super-charged by climate change and given little help in recovery. Coral reefs worldwide are bleaching and dying. Billions of populations of plants, fish, and animals have been lost in recent decades in what scientists are calling a biological annihilation. We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event since life began on this planet. So, yes, the crucifixion of our planet and people is real” (Schade, Leah, “More than Eco-Palms: Ecojustice and Passion Sunday” sermon, 4/8/2019).

But let us not forget that the story does not end with a cross. On the other side of Good Friday, on the other side of the eco-crucifixion is an eco-resurrection! Based on the doom and gloom stories we hear about the environment, it may feel like the situation is hopeless, but it is not. Resurrection happens!

  • CO2 emissions fell in 18 countries.
  • Kenya is aiming to be powered entirely by green power by the year 2020.
  • Costa Rica unveils plan to achieve zero emission by 2050.
  • Portugal alone generated enough renewable energy to power the country for an entire month.
  • Belgium quits coal power. It is the end of an era for dirty fuel for Belgium.
  • Australia plants 1 billion trees to fight climate change. And Australia witnessed an 80% reduction in single-use plastic bag consumption.
  • The world’s second largest coral reef was removed from the endangered places list after years of conservational efforts.
  • Floating trashcans are being deployed around the world so that that they can suck up tons of ocean trash.
  • A UN report says that the ozone hole is healing and may be completely repaired in our lifetime.
  • Nepal sees tiger population increase by 63%.
  • Giant pandas, humpback whales, and green sea turtles are no longer on the endangered species list.  
  • And how appropriate that we have butterflies in our resurrection gardens for Mexican scientists are moving a forest 1000 feet up a mountain to save the monarch butterfly.

Eco-resurrection is occurring, but it requires you and me to be co-creators with the greening power of God. As we walk through this holiest of weeks, may we heed Jesus’ final words in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples: “I am the vine. You are the branches. You who abide in me and I in you, bear much fruit.” Abiding in the greening power of the Sacred, may we move from eco-palms through eco-crucifixion to the glory of eco-resurrection. After all, the linen cloth is folded. Jesus is coming back. So, let’s get busy and plant a tree. Amen.