Spring seems to be springing already. It’s been warm and we’ve had rain, not snow. Flowers are starting to sprout, and we hope deer don’t eat them. You may soon start to think about planting your garden. What vegetables will you grow? Will you plant lots of flowers? When will the trees have their leaves? How early will things bloom? We love gardens. They catch our attention when we walk by them. We wonder what’s growing in them. We enjoy watching them change over the weeks, months, and years. It should not surprise us then that God loves gardens. He created a garden in Eden in the beginning and He began His Passion in Gethsemane’s garden.
Humanity began in a garden. God created all things in 6 days. He said, “Let there be,” and it was. Matter and water, light, air, dry ground, sun – moon – stars, plants, fish and birds, animals and humans, He created everything. He called them all into being, and they came forth. He shaped man like a potter. He put him in a garden in a place He called Eden. There He had the man name all the animals, and then He put him into a deep sleep and took a rib from his side and from it fashioned the mother of all the living.
That garden was meant to be their home. They were to live there forever with their children and their children after them. It was to be a happy place, a place where wickedness and sin and evil and sorrow and sadness could never be found. Every day they would walk with God their Creator and He would show them how much He loved them.
But that’s not how it turned out. They did not get to stay in that garden. They got evicted. Their way in got blocked by cherubim with flaming sword. If ever they walked by they saw it and wept, I’m sure. It was a constant reminder to everyone who passed by until it was destroyed in the Flood that they’d lost their paradise and it was their own fault.
God told them to eat from every fruit tree in the garden – there were a lot of them – except 1: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They didn’t need it; the other trees would keep them well fed. His goal was to test them, to see if they would keep their wills 100% His will? Would they do His will or not? Would they willingly pray, “Thy will be done?” Or would they decide to have their own wills, wills contrary to His own?
We know the answer to that question. They decided to have their own wills, and it did not take long – or much – to get there. All it took was a serpent hissing his lies and they decided to experience evil. They decided to experience death. That was the promise. They already knew and experienced God’s good. They thought it would be totally rad to experience evil and death too. They would not comprehend that it was not good at all. So they desired and they ate. She grabbed it first, but he could have stopped her if he wanted to. He was right there with her. But she ate and gave to him and he ate. They infected themselves with wicked desires; thus they infected themselves with death.
They got thrown out of the garden. Now they had to work the ground. It would not just produce perfect produce for them. Now they’d have to plant, trim, weed, hoe, dig, and put up fences and scarecrows. Now deer eat our flowers, insects eat our fruit, and nuts dent our cars. Now frost kills them when they sprout too soon, and drought or too much rain kill too. Sometimes we enjoy the work, and sometimes it hurts and is costly.
Is your will in line with God’s? The Collects of The Church’s Liturgy have much to teach us. On New Year’s Day we pray the Lord God to purify our hearts from all sinful desires and lusts. On the First Sunday after Epiphany we pray Him to help us perceive and know what we ought to do and then to also give us grace and power to faithfully do them. On Sunday we prayed Him to defend us from all evil thoughts that might assault and hurt the soul. On Easter we pray Him to put good desires into our minds and to continually help us put them into practice. On Trinity I we pray Him to grant us the help of His grace so we will be able to keep His commandments in both will and deed, since we can do no good thing without Him due to the weakness of our mortal nature. On Trinity XIII we pray Him to make us love what He commands, which implies we don’t. On Trinity XVIII we confess we cannot please Him without His help, so we pray His Holy Spirit to direct and rule our hearts in all things.
The Liturgy is telling us that our wills aren’t in line with God’s will. They are sinful; the Christian wants that to change, but he can’t change it himself. He needs God to change it for him, and it’s a constant process because of our sin. We need God’s Holy Spirit to be our constant influence, because we know how easy it is for us to fall into sin. And for our sins in will and deed we need His forgiveness. We need His promised help to keep us from falling back into sin and to help us do what is right in His sight.
So the story returns to a garden. Jesus went to a garden to tread the winepress alone. There He prayed intensely that the cup would depart from Him, but only if it was God’s will. He is human, so the prospect of His Passion frightened Him deeply as He began to feel our sins press Him sore. So He prayed 3 times for rescue, but only if it was God’s will. If it was His Father’s will that He suffer, then suffer He must. And suffer He did. And He gladly sings, “Willing all this I suffer.” “Yea, Father, yea, most willingly I’ll bear what Thou commandest; My will conforms to Thy decree, I do what Thou demandest.” The wrath and stripes were hard to bear, but by His Passion we do share the fruit of His salvation (TLH 142).
He chose to die on The Cross for you. It was His Father’s will and He chose to do it. And you are forgiven for all your choices to sin. You are forgiven for choosing to indulge your sinful desires, for not mortifying your flesh and denying self. You are forgiven and He promises to cleanse you and perfect you, to remake you without wicked desires, without even the potential of having them, when He comes again. He promises to right now guide you and give you good desires by means of His holy Word.
For He is risen. When He died He was placed in a new tomb in a garden. On the third day He came out of that tomb alive. Death was earned with man’s choice, so salvation is earned by The God-Man’s choice. Death was earned with a tree, so life was earned on a tree. Death was earned in a garden, so life was earned in a garden. He who once overcame by a tree was overcome by a tree, and life arose from the very thing from which death arose. Paradise is yours. Death is not the end. He who works in us new desires in this life will raise you to live a perfect life with him in the new paradise He will give us on that day.