Three Gardens

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year B.

The Garden of Eden, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Garden of the Empty Tomb. 

After Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, He asked Adam this question: “Where are you?” Naked and afraid, Adam had run away and hid from God. In the passion narrative we just heard proclaimed, another man in another garden also ran away from God, naked and afraid. “Now a young man followed [Jesus] wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.” Why does Mark include this strange detail in his passion narrative? And who is this young man? 

It has been suggested that this young man is Mark himself. Tradition has it that Mark and his family were the ones who hosted Jesus and the disciples for the Last Supper. After the supper was over, Mark followed Jesus and his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. He probably did so out of curiosity, with no real plan in mind, because he evidently wasn’t dressed for the occasion. Even though it was cold outside, he was wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. 

When the guards arrested Jesus, all His disciples fled. Mark remained with Jesus a little while longer, but when the guards tried to arrest him too, he also fled. He ran away from God, even as Adam did, naked and afraid. 

Why does Mark include this humiliating self-portrait in his gospel? As the human author, he could have easily left out this detail. But he didn’t. Why? Because Mark—and ultimately the Holy Spirit—wants to show that there is hope for us, even as there was hope for him. All of us are like Mark. All of us are tempted to run away from God in fear. And all of us have probably given in to that temptation a lot lately. 

But Mark running away in fear is not the end of the story. This isn’t the only self-portrait that Mark includes in his gospel. In Mark’s account of the resurrection, which we’ll hear at the Easter Vigil, a group of women come to the garden where Jesus is buried. In the garden, they encounter another young man wearing a linen cloth. This young man is not fearful, but joyful, and he announces to the women the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead. 

Now, whether this young man in the garden of the empty tomb is Mark himself—or, rather, an angel—is not really the point. What is the point, what Mark is trying to show us, is what Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection can do for us: These saving events can transform us from people who run away from God in fear to people who joyfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. This is what these saving events did for Mark himself, and they can do the same thing for us as well. There is hope that our fear can also be transformed. There is hope that we too can become evangelists, even as Mark did. 

So where are we right now? Are we, like Adam and like Mark, in a place of fear? Have we run away and hid from God? And where do we hope to be on Easter Sunday? If we enter into the saving events of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection this week, we, like Mark, can be transformed into joyful evangelists and fearless followers of Christ. Amen.