You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. (Psalm 30:11–12)
The first steps Jesus took as he left his grave were into a garden, one likely filled with vivid life, beauty, and promise. The apostle John writes, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41). Mary was the first to see him alive again, the one who had lain lifeless just hours before. Given who he is, and what he had done, and what he promises to do in each of us, it’s no surprise where she found him.
The tomb was his first and only grave, but he was well acquainted with gardens. The Son had placed the very first man and woman in that very first garden (Genesis 2:8–9). When he came to earth, and declared the kingdom of God, he used illustrations from the garden (Matthew 13:32). As the hour of his suffering drew near, he prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done,” in a garden (John 18:1). And one day, when he comes to judge the world and make all things knew, he will bring and establish a great city, but there will be a garden in that city (Revelation 22:1–2).
Why might the King of heaven, over and over again, choose a garden? While graves, like his, may stand for the death he has conquered, gardens arrest us — all of our senses — with the hope and joy of the life he brings.
Gardens Awaken Hope
Graveyards are serious, even frightening, places. Rows of immovable stones stare back at us with the finality of death. Life comes and goes, progresses and changes, but not here. Not among these stones. Their mist has dissolved and vanished. As we walk between the rows, we suddenly realize again just how short, how faint, how fragile life really is — how short my life really is. For many, that thought only inflames their worst fears (Hebrews 2:14–15).
Graves may inspire fear, but gardens awaken hope. Spring brings a stunning reminder, year after year, that death is not as invincible as it seems. All that died, in these same beds, just a few months ago, suddenly emerges again — first short and green, but before long as vibrant and colorful as we can imagine. Each new bloom shines with spiritual reality, embodying what must happen in our hearts.
Through Christ, God must seed our hearts with faith and then flood the soil of our souls with light, so that we experience hope (Ephesians 1:18), rejoice in hope (Romans 1:12), and abound in hope (Romans 15:13) — like flowers filling a garden.
Gardens Inspire Joy
A grave never just ends a life, but spreads grief far and wide in its wake. No human ever truly dies alone. Funerals are brief glimpses into just how contagious life and death can be — the tears in each eye mean something different, but they’re all attached to the same name, the same life, and now the same death. One grave can upend a hundred lives.
Graves spread a tremor of grief in every direction, but gardens have just as much power for good. As gardens burst out of dry, cold, dead ground with breathtaking life, they infect a home and a neighborhood with beauty. And their beauty inspires joy. Why else do we give flowers to the grieving? Because they quietly sing, even if only for a week or two, that joy is still possible — even in the valley of sorrow.
If the Spirit of God lives in us, then joy too lives and spreads in us (Galatians 5:22), like the lilies of the valley outside my front window. Because of the cursed tree that killed our King, because he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, we can sing to him, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent” (Psalm 30:11).
Gardens Breed Life
Graves symbolize death, that great and fearsome enemy. We know they are not the periods they pretend to be, that life goes on for every soul long after we leave this earth, but the monuments can still feel final, conclusive, foreboding.
But Christ conquered death for everyone who trusts him. One day, he will level every gravestone, and empty every tomb. Then we will say, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57).
Graves end life here on earth, but gardens breed life. Graves mark the end of what was; gardens whisper about all that might be. Graves pretend to be permanent, but we will search high and low for one in heaven. Gardens embrace the brevity of life for now, but will live and last forever. And if you are in Christ, so will you.