Three gardens and a funeral
9th March 2021

Image by: Jürgen Matern (from wikimedia commons)

Paradise is a garden or a park. We got the word from the Latin via French and it was borrowed from the Hebrew ‘pardes’ which in turn had borrowed it from old Persian. The kind of thing in mind seems to have been a walled garden or park around a royal palace. The latter might also be or have a temple. It’s a word that we go to in order to further name the garden of Eden, and also to speak about a life with God beyond death.

Gan Eden (the garden of Eden) is the first of the three gardens alluded to in the title. Notice it’s a garden within a bigger territory called Eden. “Eden” roughly corresponds,  to Canaan (reading between, behind and among the lines a wee bit -and so later it has other names like Judea, Ephraim, Samaria, Israel etc). What seems to be envisaged, almost mythologically, is a park probably in the region of what later becomes Jerusalem. And by implication, then, Adam and Chava (we know her as “Eve”) are the priestly rulers whose palace-temple the Garden-park would surround.

The second garden implied in the title is Gethsemane. This might well co-incide geographically with part of what would have been thought to be the garden of Eden -if the hints from Genesis 2 can be taken to correspond to real geography. In this Garden, as we visit it through the lens of the gospels, we see the pain of tending the vine that is God’s people, the wine squeezed from the flesh of the Son of Man (“ben Adam”) as the winepress of sin-driven powers turns again. We see played out yet more unwise choices: listening to voices that lead, this turn about, to a renewed nakedness and a strange fruit hanging on a tree.

The third garden is the garden relating to the funeral of the title. The garden of the tomb. To be fair, it’s a funeral that isn’t quite a funeral: the rites are begun and a provisional interment takes place but the rites are not finished. There is no completion of the preparation of the body, there is no full gathering of the mourners at the grave. So ‘funeral’ seems not quite to fit, really. The funereal rituals are interrupted, transgressed even, by the appearance of the supposed gardener outside the strangely-empty tomb. And again, it’s intriguing that this garden might well fall within the bounds of Gan Eden.

So in this selfsame garden, symbolically speaking, we had the raising of Adam from the dust of the earth and being breathed into life and now the second Adam being raised from the belly of the earth and shortly after offering the breath of Life to his disciples …

So maybe the 3 gardens are actually, in a way, one and nearly-the-same garden. The first gardener is exiled and dies, never to return. The second gardener dies and returns mysteriously -his identity as gardener is not repudiated, merely transcended. This second gardener has previously promised that someone dying beside him will be with him in ‘paradise’ -that word we considered at the start of this post. So, the exile is over, but at cost. Paradise is regained, but it is still to be shared.

When we think of the Garden of Eden we notice, then, a good deal of meandering of meaning between the ancient middle east and the English country garden romantic ideal as well as images of ‘heaven’ -pearly gates and all that. And to notice that it begins to be a part-standing-for-a-whole, first for the land of Eden, then for the whole earth and then for the New Creation. It actually becomes the arena of human history. In a very real sense, we’ve “paved paradise and put up a parking lot” (Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi). 

Gan Eden is not just a lost place of pleasure. For, in reality, the task to serve the earth and to keep it tended is not just a pastoral task but it is about civilisation. Woven through with bad choices; decisions for self-serving; exploitation of might and power; misaligning the balances between soil, other life and our own comforts and desires … and yet beneath the flagstones, there’s a garden waiting, beyond the doors there is justice to be nurtured and peace to be cultivated.

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