I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
Words: Charles Austin Miles (1912)
This classic old hymn has always been a favorite of mine for a number of reasons, but recently it has taken on an even deeper meaning for me personally. My sister Paulette loved it and requested that it be sung at her funeral. More recently, it was presented by my cousin Sandra and her husband at my Aunt Carolyn’s funeral. In preparation for that message, I reviewed the lyrics to develop an introduction to my remarks and discovered the story behind the song.
When reflecting on those lyrics in the past, I have always envisioned someone like Paulette or Carolyn rising early in the morning and strolling through their garden in a time of quiet meditation and communion with the Lord. But what I discovered is that Charles Austin Miles actually wrote those lyrics with Mary Magdalene in mind.
John 20 describes how she came to the garden tomb on that first Easter morning and discovered that her Lord, who against all hope had been crucified on Friday, had gloriously and miraculously risen from the dead. Here is the account of the composing of that hymn in the words of the writer himself, Charles Austin Miles:
“One day in April, 1912, I was seated in the dark room, where I kept my photographic equipment and organ. I drew my Bible toward me; it opened at my favorite chapter, John 20 – whether by chance or inspiration let each reader decide. That meeting of Jesus and Mary had lost none of its power and charm. As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life, when she knelt before her Lord, and cried, Rabboni!
My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall. As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head bowed, hand clasping her throat, as if to choke back her sobs, walked slowly into the shadows. it was Mary. As she came to the tomb, upon which she placed her hand, she bent over to look in, and hurried away.
John, in flowing robe, appeared, looking at the tomb; then came Peter, who entered the tomb, followed slowly by John. As they departed, Mary reappeared; leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing, so did I. I knew it was He. She knelt before Him, with arms outstretched and looking into His face cried, Rabboni!
I awakened in sunlight, gripping the Bible, with muscles tense and nerves vibrating. Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared. That same evening I wrote the music.”
While I have always loved this song, knowing its background has given me a whole new perspective and has caused its words to take on an even deeper meaning. How fitting that it was sung at Paulette and Carolyn’s funeral, as we celebrated the living hope that they had in the resurrected Christ and the new birth that they are now experiencing.
Whenever I hear it in the future, my mind will now take me to that first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene discovered the risen Lord! In that brief moment, Mary’s profound grief was turned into unbridled joy. I’m sure she wanted nothing more than to stay at her Master’s side. But Jesus had other plans, telling her, “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17) And so in obedience, “Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’” (John 20:18)
This Easter, as you reflect on that first Easter morning, take that imaginary journey to the empty tomb, be filled with the joy that Mary surely felt, think of loved ones who are basking in the presence of our Lord, and then go and tell everyone you meet that we serve a living Savior!
Until next time, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Note: All Scripture verses taken from the New International Version (NIV)