Story of the Hymn “In the Garden”

“Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.” -John 20:18


One of the most dramatic scenes of Scripture is recorded in the twentieth chapter of John’s gospel. Early on that first Sunday morning after Christ’s crucifixion, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene quietly made her way to the tomb. She was startled to find that the stone had been removed from the entrance. While standing by the empty tomb, she was amazed to hear the risen Lord gently call her name. One can well imagine the excitement in her voice when she responded, “Rabboni–my Master.”

This thrilling biblical account became the basis for one of the most popular gospel songs ever written. The author and composer, C. Austin Miles, left the following account:

“One day in March, 1912, 1 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 to 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 full fight, 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 and finished the poem as it has since appeared. That same evening I wrote the music.”

So oft in the midst of sorrows, when hope seems cold and dead,
With lifted eyes, we too may see an empty tomb instead. -author unknown

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