in the garden


    I went to work at five this morning so I could leave early to get to a funeral. A dear soul in our church, Bryant, who was, as his son said, both a gentle man and a gentleman died last Friday. Ginger said the family had asked for someone to sing “In the Garden,” which I was happy to do. Growing up Baptist meant growing up with that song and, for most of my early life, I thought it was kind of schmaltzy until William Reynolds, the guy who knows more about hymns than anyone I know, explained who is really singing the words: Mary Magdelene (john 20:15). This is an Easter hymn imagining what it must have been like for Mary meeting Jesus in the garden where she had gone to anoint his dead body only to find he was alive.

    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

    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

    I’ll stay in the garden with him
    though the night around me is falling
    but he bids me go with a voice of woe
    his voice to me is calling

    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

    C. Austin Miles, who wrote the hymn, spoke of his inspiration this way:

    I read the story of the greatest morn in history. The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet very dark, unto the sepulcher. Instantly, completely, there unfolded in my mind the scenes of the garden, where out of the mists comes a form, halting, hesitating, tearful, seeking, turning from side to side in bewildering amazement. Falteringly, bearing grief in every accent, with tear-dimmed eyes, she whispers, ‘If Thou has borne Him hence.’ He speaks, and the sound of His voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing. He said to her, “Mary!” “Just one word and forgotten are the heartaches, the long dreary hours, all the past blotted out in His presence.

    I also found this video of Dwight Yoakum singing the hymn at the funeral of his friend and mentor, Buck Owens.

    I guess I had never really thought about it as a funeral hymn, other than singing it because it was a favorite of the person we were memorializing. But tonight I find comfort in it’s poetry and melody, thinking of Mary finding Jesus in her grief and hoping for the same kind of encounter for friends I know who are grieving tonight.



    1. I like the version on Alan Jackson’s Precious Memories album. It’s a beautiful song–I grew up Baptist too and it was always one of the first ones chosen on 5th Sunday night hymn sings.

    2. Thank you for that memory – beautiful. It was one of my mother’s favorite hymns – I can still hear her singing it, as I will probably do throughout the day today.

      I’m so sorry for your loss, it seems to be a theme through the blogs these past couple of days. So many dealing with sick babies and wounded or dying loved ones. Sharing grief hopefully lessens the load.

    3. In the Lutheran church, the only time In the Garden is sung is at funerals. It’s not in our hymnals, and many of our midwestern, gospel-loving church members lament that it is not.

      Myself, I’ve never particularly liked the hymn. Like you, I often thought of it as the sort of schmaltzy predecessor to much of today’s “Jesus is my boyfriend” praise music.

      Well, color me stupid after reading your historical excursus on the hymn. Of course it’s Mary Magdalene, and all of a sudden this hymn takes on new meaning for me. Thanks for opening my eyes, and may your voice bring comfort to those who mourn.

    4. Thank you for this post, Milton. I’ll never think of this as a corny old hymn again.

      Incidentally, our servers at work are designed in such a way that our computers won’t play YouTube videos, so all day I looked forward to watching this one. Thanks, I enjoyed it.

    5. This was my grandmother’s very favorite, and a favorite of mine as well, despite the “corny” factor.

      Imagine my surprise when I became Mainline 20 years ago, and found out that it was so “theologically flawed”.

      I am so grateful to you for showing me a new appreciation for it.

    6. I’ve never much liked the hymn either. A college chaplain I knew when I was a freshman used to sing, “He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he chucks me under the chin,” to demonstrate his own contempt of it. I wish I could share this with him, because it certainly puts it in a whole new light. Thank you.

    7. Dear Milton, I’m sitting here listening to Dwight…your entry sounds as if you could still be living here talking about our dear Alden. I wish you were close enough to come and sing. Molly

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