You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
The other day we went down to the garden centre – just for a look around you understand. But there is always room for another plant in the garden isn’t there? Unsurprisingly, we did not come away empty handed. As a result we spent a happy, but tiring day digging up some of the old plants now past their best replacing them with the new ones. And, of course, the roses have had their final pruning for the year, but there are still a few unruly shoots out of place to be tidied up. In all a busy day after which we were glad to come indoors for a rest.
Gardens and gardeners play an important part in our Christian life too, of course.
A few weeks ago in these reflections we spoke of the relevance of the two trees the first in Eden and the second at Calvary. That first garden has been called the garden of disobedience, since mankind in the form of Adam refused to listen to God’s command and ate the forbidden fruit.
On the other hand Gethsemane might be considered the second garden; the garden of obedience, perhaps. Here Jesus, God in human form, prayed 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Matthew 26:39(NIV). Read those last words again: Yet not as I will, but as you will. He accepted that God’s task for Him was more important than His own wishes.
On Easter Day we come to the third garden; the garden of salvation. Remember the scene; Mary Magdalene, standing at the entrance of the now empty tomb, crying. When the angels asked her why she cries she replied: “Because they have taken my Lord away”. At that point a gardener appears, or at least that is what Mary thinks. Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ John 20:15. Notice that He calls her by her name. She runs to tell the other disciples that Jesus lives! Later Jesus will appear to them sending them out to proclaim the Good News. In the same way God calls us by name to show God to the world.
That, I think, is the message of the gardens. Just as we go into the garden to plant new seeds or shrubs so God calls us by name to carry out His will each day. When we have finished our gardening we return indoors to rest. In the same way once we have completed the task God has given us we will return to our eternal home, the fourth and final garden, to give an account of our endeavours and to rest from our work. From Paradise to Paradise.
The kitchen windows offer a great vantage point to observe the birds in my garden going about their daily business. Provided I stand back from the window they take no notice. If, however, I move too close to the windows then they scatter to the safety of the nearby trees. They see a shadow, something that is unknown to them, something which frightens them. They don’t need to be afraid of me, I would not harm them; but they do not know that. It is their natural instinct to fly away when confronted with a perceived threat; even if there is much needed food to be had on the ground.
Perhaps we are like those little birds. After all we have the same flight or fight mechanism built in as they do. When faced with a threat, maybe a shadow, something unknown, or perhaps something really terrifying we have several coping mechanisms. But maybe those mechanisms do not work. Then even though we may feel lost, up against it, not knowing which way to turn we need to remember that God is there; we only need to call on Him. He will hear our cry and will respond; maybe not in the way we expect, but He will respond if we listen. Remember the words of the 23rd Psalm: 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (KJV)
And that is the important point to remember “for thou art with me”. The Epistle to the Hebrews states quite clearly: “... for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” Hebrews 13:5. It is those words that we need to hold on to. Take comfort in these words: “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Matthew 1:23. God is with us now and forever and will never leave us nor forsake us.
The birds of the garden may not be able to read the Bible or take comfort from it but we can and we must.
Several different species of bird live in our garden and the gardens around sharing the space with us and brightening our day with their bright colours and mellifluous song. Not all are brightly coloured, of course, the male blackbird, for example is a shiny black whilst his mate wears light brownish feathers. The robin has a bright red waistcoat to his brown suit. Their song differs widely too and is quite distinct. The commonest UK breeding bird and a regular visitor to most gardens is the wren. The wren is one of the smallest birds in the UK, with brown, non-descript feathers, dumpy almost rounded with a short narrow tail which is sometimes cocked up vertically. Remarkably it is not often seen as it has a habit of scrabbling and searching among the leaf litter and overgrown areas along the back of the garden for insects and spiders on which it feeds. That said for such a small bird it has a remarkably loud voice. Given its loud voice you might expect to notice it more often but its secretive habits together with its excellent camouflage colouring make it hard to spot since it rarely ventures out into the open ground of the garden lawn.
Perhaps that describes you in a way. Your neighbours know you are there as they see you scurrying off to church each Sunday morning – late as usual – whilst they are mowing the lawn or cleaning the car. They may have no idea what goes on in that church; in any case it is not relevant to them and their lives, is it? They may feel that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done as it is, without having to spend hours on their knees in a draughty musty old building. And for what?
Now you may feel that there is little you can do to persuade them otherwise. After all there is just one of you, a very ordinary person with no special qualifications. How can you change their minds? Indeed is it you job to do so? Should not that sort of thing be left to those more qualified, to the professionals who know all the answers?
But remember one of the distinguishing characteristics of the little wren ‘for such a small bird it has a remarkably loud voice’. God may not have given you a remarkably loud voice but He has blessed you with talents to use in His service and as Jesus said: 16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. Luke 8:16 (NIV)
So get out there and show your neighbourhood by words deeds and actions that you are a Christian. Show them what that means to you and to the whole world. Come out of the undergrowth and start singing on the lawn.
So that’s Easter out of the way. In the past three months we have celebrated the birth of Christ, the dark, soul searching days of Lent, the awful harrowing death on the Cross of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour and His glorious and joyous Resurrection. Now what?
The disciples must have felt like that in the days after that first Easter Day. For some time they stayed huddled in the upper room afraid of the consequences of appearing in public; being associated with Christ crucified. It is true that Jesus appeared to them on several occasions but it was clear to them that, whilst He was not a ghost, nevertheless He was not in human form. This must have disconcerted them even further! Yet the Gospel of Mark tells us: ‘Then He said to them “Go to every part of the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation”’ (Mark 16:15 NIV) Now they must have been really concerned. It was one thing to go about with Jesus whilst He was on this earth, teaching, healing the sick and proclaiming the Good News but to go out alone? Could they do that? Yet that was what He was calling them to do.
In the same way we need to remember that God has no hands, no feet, and no voice, thus like the disciples it is up to us to carry out His mission in this world. But again like the disciples we are most likely afraid; afraid of what people might think or say about us, afraid we might not be able to achieve what we set out to do. After all, we probably feel that we are not qualified. Now think about that. The disciples were simple uneducated men, fishermen, tax collectors and the like, and look what they were able to achieve. “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the Apostles” Acts 5:12. But, of course, they were not on their own; alone they could do nothing but they had the power of the Holy Spirit with them (Acts 2:1). In the same way we are not alone for fifty days after Easter Day we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, a feast which commemorates the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, on the ancient Jewish festival called the "feast of seven weeks" (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10). So, like the Apostles, it is only with the Holy Spirit to guide us that we too can continue the work of God.
Let us then use the fifty days before Pentecost to take stock, to reflect upon what we are doing for God and to ask what He wants us to do for Him. Are we doing enough? Should we be doing more? What does He want us to do for him? Take some time from the busyness of the coming days to pray, to ask for God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit to do His Will; to make a difference for His Name's sake
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years