Updated: Apr 10
Easter Day: John 20: 1-18
Rev. Cameron Partridge
April 9, 2023
Good morning, St. Aidan’s. Welcome, and Happy Easter!
When I was growing up, one of my favorite movies was The Neverending Story. Based on the novel by Michael Ende (actually, the first half of the book), it portrays the adventures of a boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux. Bastian is a bookish boy who is navigating difficult family circumstances and struggling in school. What truly brings him to life is stories. He loves to read. In the movie he escapes to the wonderfully quirky attic of his school (kids, don’t try this!) to read a book he had snuck from a used bookstore (don’t try this either!). Bastian’s book is called The Neverending Story, and it tells the adventures of an imperiled world called Fantasia (or in the book Fantastica). When my love for the movie (including its fabulous, uber-80s theme song) led me to check the book out of the library, I was amazed to discover a distinctive feature. The text is printed in two colors: red ink for the scenes of Bastian the reader and green for the narrative of his Neverending Story book, which we readers got to read along with him, as if looking over his shoulder. (The paperback version uses regular and italic print—not nearly as eye-catching.) What I absolutely love about the story – spoiler alert – is that Bastian does not simply read the Neverending Story; he becomes part of it, and it of him. The border between his world and that of the story becomes permeable, and at a certain point he steps through. Early in the novel, the reader gets a hint of this trajectory when Bastian the reader screams in reaction to a description of an especially hideous spider, and then the characters of Fantastica pause wondering where the screaming noise had come from. When Bastian finally overcomes his fear and steps through the veil, the text color flips – now he is contained within the green text, until the very end of the book when he returns with new courage to face the challenges of his world and the text flips back to red. I love this feature of the book because of how it enacts the power of story in our lives – something Margaret preached about last night as well – not simply entertaining us, not simply providing means of respite from reality, but becoming part of us, shaping us, allowing us to wrestle with the world and imagine it differently which, in turn, can help us join in its re-creation. And that project, that call, is in fact at the heart of the Neverending Story itself. Bastian has to risk stepping into the story, joining it, extending it with his own life and heart.
Years later, when I was a seminarian, as I contemplated the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, the rendition we heard today as well as others, I found myself thinking about The Neverending Story. I found myself appreciating anew the stories that invite us in, that become a part of us. Stories that shape us, and that we ourselves become part of, the green text alternating to red. Because at some point that happened for me with the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. I realized that I was not simply reading them; they were reading me.
They were reading me as I knelt years later in the cold spring earth of Everett, Massachusetts gardening by choice as an adult for the first time. My grandfather, who had taught me how to garden, had died the previous summer. I had lost my dad the year before that. My spouse Kateri and I had recently moved across the country from the South Bay where she had done her postdoctoral fellowship. We had rented the bottom unit of a two-family home from a dear friend and got a deal on our cable if we did snow removal and gardening. So there I was, planting a lilac tree in the corner of the yard by the sidewalk. There I crouched, planting daffodils, tulips, and bunches of clematis along the chain link fence that would eventually climb up and shroud it with massive purple flowers. As neighbors came by and commented, a phrase from today’s gospel story would pop into my head: “thinking him the be the gardener…” but I’m no gardener, I’d laugh. I was a grad student and young adult trying to figure out how to navigate the losses and risks of my life. But then another thought followed: I am a gardener. I may never have planted a bulb in my life before. I may not have known the word Clematis before last spring – or Dianthus, or Columbine, but I do now, and my goodness, they’re growing. Who knows what will unfold?
In his collection of poems called The Backwater Sermons, Jay Hulme writes
At first Mary thought He was a gardener,
This miraculous Son.
She saw the dirt under His nails
through the tears in her eyes,
and saw not the grave but the bringer of life;
And how was she wrong, then?
This woman wrapped in grief,
who saw the dirt of a borrowed tomb,
and thought at first of things which bloom;
which turn their heads to the sun,
and burst into joyous colour.
Mary’s first thought may not have taken in the whole truth being revealed to her in that moment. We know this because further back and forth was needed – this man standing before her was not simply “sir.” Nor was she simply “woman.” Jesus then speaks her name into to this threshold of death and life and she turns again, she sees that the story of her beloved teacher is not ended but beginning anew. She sees in that moment that she, Mary, is being given new life, not erasing her losses, not denying her grief, but ushering her into joy of a depth she could not previously have fathomed. “Rabouni!” she cries, speaking new connection, new possibility, and indeed new life into being. Jesus was raised from the dead, and this was only the beginning. Resurrection was a story which she was called to tell, to share, to live. “I have seen the Lord.” I have seen the Lord. In and through its sacred retellings she would become part of this earth-turning mystery. And each person who heard that story would become a part of it as well.
The fifth century monastic and priest Hesychius of Jerusalem preached, “This day brings a message of joy: it is the day of the Lord’s resurrection when, with himself, he raised up the race of Adam. Born for the sake of human beings, he rose from the dead with them. On this day Paradise is opened by the risen one… On this day the divine call is heard, the kingdom is prepared, we are saved and Christ is adored.” The joy of this day comes to us in the form of sacred story. We are meant to soak into our weary bones that Christ who had died, who was buried, is risen. That rising has caught all human beings, and indeed all creation into its holy stream. New possibility is opened, horizons we cannot see are yet gifted to our sight, inviting us to look through this story as a lens on the world, speaking to us in grief, shaping our sense of possibility when the world tells us hope is not to be found. Paschal mystery and holy story, the resurrection is a “divine call” issued to us: God’s reign, God’s dream of justice and peace, of restoration and healing is at hand. This our story. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it. See the world anew through its eyes.
Invite others into it. Share it with family. Share it among friends. Share it in this beloved city of ours whom so many proclaim is on a threshold of doom, trapped in a pandemic “resin.” Yet new life is come. The story of this place is far from over, and we, we friends, are part of it. We are indeed gardeners of God. I have seen you out there on the median strip. I’ve worked with you out in our courtyard, at the Little Red Hen Garden. I’ve seen you on Zoom, sharing your backyard gardens. We’ve been out there working on the now nearly finished Habitat for Humanity house on Amber Drive. Christ is in our midst, calling us by name. On this Easter Day, may we know ourselves to be part of this story. May we share it with infectious hope. With God’s help, let us build God’s living city, God’s dream, together.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WN0T-Ee3q4  Michael Ende, The Neverending Story (New York: Dutton Children’s Books, (1979), 1992), 65-66.  Jay Hulme, The Backwater Sermons: Poems by Jay Hulme (Norwich, NY: Canterbury Press, 2021), 75.  Hesychius of Jerusalem, Easter Homily. Available online at: https://nocateecatholic.com/commentary-by-hesychius-of-jerusalem/ For more on Hesychius: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hesychius-of-Jerusalem  San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board, April 1, 2023: “San Francisco could be on the verge of collapse. What should California do about it?” https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/downtown-san-francisco-17852552.php