During Holy Week we often focus on the “red” storyline of Christ’s shed blood offered as atonement for our sins. This is the central message of the cross. However, both before and beyond the cross is a bigger, grander, “greener” story of redemption that highlights the “red” storyline even more.
My original inspiration for this series was from the first lesson in a young adult study entitled Voices. There the author outlines an overview of Scripture and the redemptive drama through four “covenant gardens”: the garden of Eden, the garden of Gethsemane, the garden of Resurrection (Jesus’ tomb), and the garden of Heaven (the new heaven and the new earth mentioned in Rev. 21).
With additional inspiration from Cal DeWitt (author of Earthwise [Faith Alive]), and after purchasing a copy of the Green Bible (HarperOne), I knew it was “planting time.” So I expanded my short “Easter Garden” sunrise service into a four-part “Green Redemption” series.
A cautionary note: If the term “green” raises red flags in your church and community, you may want to eliminate the use of the terms “green” and “red” in the following services. The focus on the creational fullness of Christ’s redemption can be communicated without “green” language. However, consider this: Where is the first mention of color in the Bible? What color is it? Hopefully, your own wrestling with these questions and key Scriptures (perhaps along with your council and worship leaders) will impassion you to preach a Christ-centered “Gardens of Redemption” series of your own.
Palm Sunday: The King of Creation Comes to Reclaim His Garden
Scripture: Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 19:28-40 (also ref. Matt. 21:12-17)
Our church practices blended worship, and it was refreshing to discover how creational and “green” many of the traditional hymns and contemporary praise songs are.
Our Palm Sunday worship began with contemporary upbeat “Hosanna” songs and then transitioned into a time of prayer, confession, and profession. Following the Apostle’s Creed we sang “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Then, following the message, we planned an atypical second praise section using three hymns: “Beautiful Savior,” “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” and “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” Following a blessing from “Christ, the King of Creation” we sang “Glory, Glory to the King of Kings.”
This service and message highlighted Christ’s claim on the whole of creation, and his coming in the incarnation as the Son of man—the Son of Adam—the perfect “second Adam” who has come to reclaim and redeem “all things [which] were created by him and for him” (Col. 1:16b).
Cal DeWitt posed the following five questions to a pastors’ group I was a part of. I don’t recall the precise wording and order of the questions, but they gave me new “glasses” through which I saw the Scriptures in a glorious new light.
- Question 1: Why is “Son of Man” the title Jesus most often uses to refer to himself? (Check the gospels; the NIV Study Bible has a very helpful footnote at Mark 8:31.)
- Question 2: What does it mean to be a human being made in the image of God: the deity who fully became human in Jesus Christ? Read and unpack the Christological hymn of Colossians 1:15-20. Then answer this additional key question: What does it mean to follow Jesus, the Christ, “the firstborn over all creation”?
- Question 3: Why did Mary Magdalene mistake the risen Jesus for the gardener in John 20:15? Contemplate Rembrandt’s painting “The Resurrected Lord Appears to Mary Magdalen.” What biblical, Reformed, and “green” implications are embedded in this garden painting?
- Question 4: Reflect on Psalm 24:1 (NIV). What does “everything” and “all” really include? (Cal DeWitt actually put us pastors to the test by asking, “What Greek word does the OT Septuagint use for ‘everything’ and why?” (You may want to check other English translations if this is “Greek and Hebrew” to you).
- Question 5: Now in light of Psalm 24:1, read Mark 16:15 and ask yourself again, What is “all” included in Mark’s shorter but more comprehensive version of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20)? Check out other English versions of Mark 16:15, noting that “preach the good news to all creation” (NIV) is also translated “to every creature.” How can humans “preach the good news” to the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and all living creatures? That, of course, will bring you back to Genesis 1 and 2, which also is a great place to begin your “green” reread of the Scriptures.
I used Luke’s version of the Triumphal Entry because it includes Jesus’ words that “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40) with praise if the joyful assembly of disciples were kept quiet. Why the stones? Because all creation cries out to praise its Creator. The message began with a personal experience of God’s grandeur in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado and ended with a return to the Garden of Eden following our King of creation.
“Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” LUYH, CH 3, PH 138, PsH 249, SWM 28, TH 100, WR 136
“Beautiful Savior” LUYH, PsH 461, WR 105
“Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” LUYH, CH 297, PH 89, PsH 378, WR 267
“All Glory, Laud, and Honor” LUYH, CH 300, PH 88, PsH 375/376, SFL 161, TH 235, WR 265
Good Friday: The King’s Gracious Submission in a Garden called Gethsemane
Scripture: Matthew 26:36-46
On Good Friday we used the classic hymn “In the Garden” to set the tone. The service was an invitation to a deeper relationship with Christ, to come and “walk with him in the garden” more often by watching and praying with him in that darkest garden of all: Gethsemane.
Here the “green” and “red” storylines of Scripture come together vividly as the fully human and fully divine “Son of Man” suffers and sweats great drops of blood, wrestling with his Father in prayer over the redemption of the world that God loves.
Before the message we sang a medley of “Standing on Holy Ground” with “Were You There.” In the message, present-day pictures of the garden of Gethsemane were used to ground the message in the down-to-earth aspects of redemption, and other classic pictures of Christ’s praying and suffering were used to invite us into the intense spiritual realities of Christ’s sacrifice for us. A key contrast was comparing the first Adam, who submitted to sin in the glorious paradise of the garden of Eden, to the second sinless Adam, Christ, who bore our sin and suffering in the crushing darkness of the garden of Gethsemane.
After the message we used John 3:16 as the invitation to holy communion. During communion we sang “The Wonderful Cross,” “Man of Sorrows—What a Name,” “There Is a Redeemer,” and “You Are My King/Amazing Love.” Following the blessing we sang “My Tribute.”
“Were You There” LUYH, CH 315, PH 102, PsH 377, SFL 167, TH 260, WR 283
“The Wonderful Cross” (Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin) LUYH
“Man of Sorrows—What a Name” LUYH, CH 311, PsH 482, TH 246, WR 301
“There Is a Redeemer” LUYH, CH 308, SNC 145, SWM 128, WR 117
“You Are My King/Amazing Love” LUYH, CH 351, CSW 12, WR 259
“My Tribute” LUYH, CH 54, TH 640, WR 363
Easter Sunday: Our Resurrected Gardener King Makes Everything New!
Scripture: John 20:1-18;
Easter Sunday is the climax of this series, with the subtle revelation that Mary wasn’t really mistaken when she was thought Jesus was a gardener (John 20:15b). Rembrandt’s 1638 painting “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen” (see back cover of this issue of RW) helps frame this expansive vision of the scope of Christ’s resurrection.
We hoped this service would be a wake-up call to those who had only seen the “red” redemptive storyline of Scripture. Our resurrected Lord is not just our personal Savior; he is indeed the King of Creation and the Restorer of all creation. He is the divine/human Gardener who reestablishes an unbreakable covenant bond between heaven and Earth, between God the Creator and his redeemed creation.
In order to reveal the greener, earthy ramifications of Christ’s resurrection, we first projected some of the typical blinding, bright-light pictures of Christ’s resurrection. Then we reflected on Rembrandt’s painting in our dimly lit sanctuary. It is subtle upon first sight, but profound in its scope—so much so that the series would not have been complete without that forward look to the future garden of our God.
Once again, both traditional and contemporary Easter songs complement this series. The hymns “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns” call all creation into God’s glorious praise.
“Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” LUYH, CH 1, PH 478, PsH 475, TH 76/77, WR 82
“Crown Him with Many Crowns” LUYH, CH 45, PH 151, PsH 410, SFL 181, TH 295, WR 317
Ideas for Visuals
Being visually creative can help bring this series “down to earth” where it belongs. Try to create a garden setting in your sanctuary, perhaps starting already in the entryway and fellowship area. Why not ask members to loan their house plants and have a team of people who know how to arrange them create a garden-like setting? If you have landscapers in your church, use them. Bringing in some big stones to “cry out” their Creator’s praise could work for Palm Sunday and perhaps double to suggest the stone tomb of Easter. Maybe a local nursery would donate small potted trees that could be used inside during the series and then planted Luther-style in the church grounds to conclude the series. This might even be the beginning of a memorial prayer garden for your church.
Sunday after Easter: Back to the Future Garden of Our God
Scripture: Revelation 21:1-5; 22:1-6
The final message of this series posed a question that was intended to get people to think and act re-creationally. The question was “What’s your view of heaven?” The action point was “How does your view of heaven affect how you live on earth?”
I used three types of pictures to frame the question: typical Garden of Eden pictures like Adam naming the animals; typical heaven pictures of golden light, angels, with Jesus in the clouds or God on the throne; and the picture by William Strutt called “A Little Child Shall Lead Them” based on Isaiah 11:6. Then I asked, “Which picture best represents your view of Heaven?”
In the end the key Scripture was Jesus’ words in Revelation 21:5, “I am making everything new,” coupled with the challenge to join the King of Creation in renewing his reclaimed garden of earth here and now.
The well-known story about Martin Luther being caught planting a tree in his backyard by a church member who thought that preachers should spend their time with more churchly things makes a great ending. The pious church member questions Luther’s tree planting by asking what he’d be doing that minute if he knew Jesus was returning the next day. Luther answers boldly that he would finish the planting the peach tree so that it might become part of the new earth under a new heaven.
A year after I preached this Easter series, Earth Day fell on Holy Saturday, and several young adults from our church and community were planting trees on the disc golf course we had built together. I’m sure my upcoming Easter message could have used a little more work, but I chose to follow that great preacher, Luther, who got out of the study and into the world to dirty his hands with the holy earthiness of planting trees.
“Hallelujah Forever” CSW 24