It is in this section of the sermon that Andrewes works one of his most beautiful tapestries: Mary Magdalene’s mistaking Jesus for the gardener. All along in this sermon, Andrewes has sought to show that whatever her other errors (and whatever ours), Mary’s deep love for Christ (to borrow a phrase from St. Peter) “covers a multitude of sins.”
Here—once again drawing on a variety of sources—Bishop Andrewes creates a picture of utmost tenderness, compassion, and beauty. One can imagine this being preached slowly, with great care, as his hearers are being led through the manifold ways that Mary was actually right in supposing Jesus to be the gardener.
This section of the sermon highlights one of Andrewes’ most beautiful characteristics in later life: a desire to show not only the face of God’s judgment, but a tremendous capacity to speak of God’s desire for communion with us. It is this profound sacramentality that marks his greatest sermons, and for which he has been called “Anglicanism’s Mystical Theologian.”
Ver. 14. 'When she had thus said, she turned herself about, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.'
Always the Angels, we see, touched the right string, and she tells them the wrong cause, but yet right, if it had been right.
Now to this answer of hers they would have replied, and taken away her error touching her Lord's taking away; that if she knew all, she would have left her seeking, and set her down by them, and left her weeping, and been in white as well as they.
But here is a supersedeas to them, the Lord Himself comes in place. Now come we from the seeking Him dead, to finding Him alive. For when He saw no Angels, no sight, no speech of theirs would serve, none but her Lord could give her any comfort, her Lord comes. Christus adest.
Adest Christus, nec ab eis unquam abest a quibus quæritur, saith Augustine; 'Christ is found, found by her; and this case of hers will be the case of all who seriously seek Him.' This woman here for one, she sought Him we see. They who went to Emmaus to day, they but talked of Him sadly, and they both found Him. Why, He is found of them who seek Him not; but of them who seek Him, never but found, 'For Thou Lord never failest them that seek Thee.' 'God is not unrighteous, to forget the work and labour of their love that seek Him.'
So find Him they will, but happily not all so fully at first, no more than she did. For first, to try her yet a little further, He comes unknown, stands by her, and she little thought it had been He.
A case that likewise falls out full oft. Doubtless, 'He is not far from every one of us,' saith the Apostle to the Athenians. But He is nearer us many times than we think; even hard by us and we are not aware of it saith, saith Job. And O si cognovissess et tu, 'O if we did know, and it standeth us in hand to pray that we may know when He is so, for that is, 'the time of our visitation.'
St. John saith here, the Angels were sitting; St. Luke saith, they stood. They are thus reconciled. That Christ coming in presence, the Angels which before were sitting stood up. Their standing up made Mary Magdalene turn her to see who it was they rose to. And so Christ she saw, but knew Him not.
Not only not knew Him, but mis-knew Him, took Him for the gardener. Tears will dim the sight, and it was not yet scarce day, and she seeing one, and not knowing what any one should should make in the ground so early but he who dressed it, she might well mistake. But it was more than so; her eyes were not holden only that she did not know Him, but over and beside He did appear…in some such shape as might resemble the gardener for whom she took Him.
Proper enough it was, it fitted well the time and place, this person. The time, it was the spring; the place, it was the garden: that place is most in request at that time, for that place and time a gardener doth well.
Of which her so taking Him, St. Gregory said well, profecto errando non erravit. She did not mistake in taking Him for a gardener; though she might seem to err in some sense, yet in some other she was in the right. For in a sense, and a good sense, Christ may well be said to be a gardener, and indeed is one. For our rule is, Christ as He appears, so He is ever; no false semblant in Him.
1. A gardener He is then. The first, the fairest garden that ever was, Paradise. He was the gardener, it was of His planting. So, a gardener.
2. And ever since it is He That as God makes all our gardens green, sends us yearly the spring, and all the herbs and flowers we then gather; and neither Paul with his planting, nor Apollos with his watering, could do any good without Him. So a gardener in that sense.
3. But not in that alone; but He it is who gardens our 'souls' too, and makes them, as the prophet [Jeremiah] saith, like a well-watered garden;' weeds out of them whatsoever is noisome or unsavoury, sows and plants them with true roots and seeds of righteousness, waters them with the dew of His grace, and makes them bring forth fruit to eternal life.
But it is none of all these, but besides all these, no over and above all these, this day if ever, most properly He was a gardener. Was one, and so after a more peculiar manner might take this likeness on Him. Christ rising was indeed a gardener, and that a strange one, Who made such a herb grow out of the ground this day as the like was never seen before, a dead body to shoot forth alive out of the grave.
I ask, was He so this day alone? No, but this profession of His, this day begun, He will follow to the end. For He it is That by virtue of this morning's act shall garden our bodies too, turn all our graves into garden plots; yea, will one day turn land and sea and all into a great garden, and so husband them as will in due time bring forth live bodies, even all our bodies alive again.
Long before, did Esay see this and sing of it in his song resembling the resurrection to a spring garden. 'Awake and sing,' saith he, 'ye that dwell for a time are as it were sown in the dust, for His dew will be as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall shoot forth her dead.' So then He appeared no other than He was; a gardener He was, not in show alone, but opere et veritate, and so came in His own likeness. This for Christ's appearing. Now to His speech, but as unknown still.