Let’s go back to the Easter morning empty tomb and then turn the clock forward 20 years. There we encounter an aging gardener with memories to share. Sukkot is a harvest festival, when Jewish people build huts – sukkah – which remind them of the wilderness years in Jewish history as well as the transience and fragility of our lives. S’chach is the leafy material used to cover the sukkah, and etrogim are yellow-skinned citrus fruits enjoyed during Sukkot.
Finally, finally, the best time of the year. The pilgrims are back in the city, the etrogim are ripe, and I’ve finished with the tree trimming. Such a lot of growth this season, and over there by the gate, you can see my enormous pile of s’chach. People keep stopping by, asking if they might take a few for the roof of their sukkah.
“That’s what they are there for. Take as many as you like.”
I love the rustle as folk gather the trimmings up in their arms and carry them away down the road, all those large branches cut from my garden.
I shouldn’t call it my garden. I only work here. Still, most days, it’s just me walking these paths and watching the weeds and flowers flourish and fade, the cyclamen and kalaniyot. Despite the etrogim, this garden is not meant to be fruitful. It’s more about beauty, a nice green and growing space where mourners can come. Most of what I plant here is meant to stay hidden. Almost 30 years now I have worked among the tombs. And 20 now since that spring.
This is a garden for the wealthy dead. Plutocrats and priests and members of the Council. That’s what brought Joseph here. He wanted a beautiful new tomb for himself – a tomb newly hewn – and he paid good money for it. Then brought me along a criminal to bury. Must say I was more than a little uncertain about that. This is not a place for criminals. And then there was the matters of the guards and the Roman seal. I was worried it would give this garden a bad name, or worse, stir up trouble. Maybe it did, but not how I expected.
They came at dawn
All through the summer that followed, women came to the garden. You probably haven’t heard about this. It just happened and they kept it quiet. Word of their closed rooms leaked out, and others drew close to those rumours, that growing movement, but these women came looking for quiet, not crowds. They came at dawn, sometimes at sunset. The Magdalena, Joanna and the other women. His mother, too, with her strange, open eyes taking everything in. They didn’t come with weeping. That’s why they caught my attention. There was a strange joy among them, strange as the sharp, tart and bitter taste of the etrogim, bright as life itself. I’m not sure I understood it, though perhaps I’m growing closer now after all these years.
Most of these women have now moved away. I think of them often. I picture them in other gardens, other places of life and quiet where they can turn and face the light. His mother still comes here. She is old and wraps up well against every weather. When she sees me, she holds out her hands. I take them in mine gently and she smiles.
The sun returned
Later, when I am alone, I see him sometimes. I think I do. He stands beyond the cedar, there in the border country of shadows. Not hidden, just not yet lit. As if he balances on the cusp of things, and I don’t disturb him. Just like all the others who come to my garden and stand lingering and alone. Let them. It is good to find a green place. I would only give him peace. And, though I say nothing and neither does he, those moments when I see him have, for me, the feel of summer returned. An autumn day turned warm and bright, soft with the last passionflower on the vine, the sweetest fig split open, and up over the wall, the birds returned to take a backward look on all they must leave behind to see again the sun.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)
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