Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
On Easter Monday our son, his wife and our granddaughter came to see us bringing with them several pots of bedding plants for the garden. Given the mess the garden was in at the time we placed them on the window ledge in the back lobby where they would catch the sun whilst we decided where we wanted to plant them. This morning I saw a blackbird fluttering outside the window. He had seen the plants and recognised that there would be nourishment there for him. What he hadn’t reckoned with was the glass window between him and his desire!
This week’s Gospel reading, John 20:19-31 tells of Thomas refusing to accept Jesus’ resurrection "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (v25) Now I have sympathy with Thomas. I have no doubt that he wanted to believe; no doubt he had been with the other disciples when Mary came back from the empty tomb on Easter Day and heard her news. He had heard, too, Peter and the beloved disciple’s report and knew what the disciples on the road to Emmaus had told them. Yet there was something inside him that said, “No, it is just not possible for a man to die – to be killed as Jesus was – and to rise again from the dead. It is just a physical impossibility. No-one has ever survived crucifixion.” Anyway, how could anyone enter a locked room without breaking down the doors? Maybe he wasn’t too sure what had happened to Lazarus; but that’s another story. The simple fact was that there was too much that didn’t make sense at present for him to get his head round. Yet the clear message of the gospel story is that believing that Jesus is risen and alive is not dependent on physical contact with Jesus (Thomas makes his profession of faith without touching Jesus), but coming to believe does depend on personal encounter.
Now, are we like Thomas? If Jesus were to come to us today, through what locked doors might He have to pass? The blackbird could see the brightly coloured bedding plants but couldn’t get to them because of the glass window. But, the window has a latch on the inside by which to open it. So what stops us from throwing open the glass window of our hearts to let our Blessed and Saviour into our lives? After all, He is there waiting patiently for us to invite Him in. But something prevents us from crying as Thomas did “My Lord and my God” John 20:28(KJV)? In fact we are more likely to say: ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief’ Mark 9:24(KJV). Yet what stops us from embracing Him wholeheartedly? Coming to believe more deeply that Jesus is risen and alive is the work of the Spirit within and among us.
The garden looks a mess at the moment. The lads have laid the paths and scraped off the old lawn but have still to lay the new turves. The birds are quite unconcerned by the mess, they are just happy that someone has turned the ground over to reveal more bugs and insects for them to eat. They are not worried, indeed do not realise, that the garden does not look as neat and tidy as it will eventually be, and as we want it to be.
Are our lives like that sometimes? Are we quite happy so long as there is food on the table and enough to get by? Are we happy just plodding along as we have always done? After all, the poor are always with us and people have been refugees for as long as time itself. Adam and his wife were cast out of the Garden of Eden - surely they were the first refugees, the first to be made homeless. Anyway, what can we do about it? There will always be some “do-gooder” somewhere to take care of them, so let them get on with it. We can send a donation to a charity if it will salve our conscience but what more can we do? There is too much else going on in our busy lives to worry too much about refugees in a far off land. But for all that are we happy with our lives? Is there something missing? Oh, God you mean? Well, there are enough “God botherers” out there already wearing out the knees of their trousers and some of them have some very peculiar ideas. Do we really want to get into all that? Of course, our lives do not need to be like that. The darkness of the night does not last forever, there is always light that follows. This weekend we remembered the death of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour, the darkness of Good Friday and the horrible blackness of Holy Saturday that followed. And yet yesterday we celebrated His Resurrection. Christ is risen!! That very fact gives meaning to our lives. God is not dead, He is with us now, as He always has been, and will never leave nor forsake us. We simply need to Ask, Seek and Knock to receive a fuller, richer, more fulfilling life with God.
When I wrote last week I wondered if this was the right time to sort out the garden. Now I think the Easter message illustrates that it was. After looking like a bomb site for a week, by the time I next write the garden will be a safer, more comfortable, more welcoming place. We will be able to sit out there without having to prop up the leg of the table, whilst Mr Robin will still be able to enjoy all the bugs and insects he can dig up.
Christ is risen! Christ is with us - and will never leave us! Thanks be to God
Over the winter we talked about replacing the worn out lawn and renewing the old broken and the dangerously sunken stone paths. Once upon a time we would have been happy to tackle that job ourselves but as we are getting on a bit we decided to get a professional firm to do the work. “I’m away for a few days but will ring you when I get back” Bill said when we rang him. Some months later he turned up on the doorstep saying that he could start this week but realised that he hadn’t phoned us or actually seen the job to price it. He did so then and there with the result that Ron and Dave turned up and set to work at 8.00am this morning. Work has finally started; not really the best time since the plants are coming into bloom, but we need the work done. Anyway as we have used the company before we know they provide a good quality of work. A new and safer garden is in prospect. I’m sure it will be fine when completed it’s just the hassle of getting it done.
Ron brought his son along to help which means they will have some father/son time together. That will be a good thing since sometimes circumstances make it difficult to spend time with family members. Our neighbours fly out to Houston Texas tomorrow to spend time with their daughter and her family, for example.
Lent is in its final week –Holy week – so perhaps now is a good time to reflect on what progress we have made with those good intentions we set for ourselves on Ash Wednesday. Of course life goes on at the same hectic pace as before Lent. There is never a convenient time to focus on the task in hand – there is always so much else to do, but how is our relationship with God today? Are we sharing more father/son time with Him than in the past? Has Lent drawn us closer to God our Father each day? Are we allowing God to draw us more deeply into his love? Are we making time to pray to Him but more importantly are we listening to what God has to say to us?
In due time the garden will be fine with a new lush lawn and safe paths, but it requires a great deal of hard work to get it into shape; there is no easy way. Likewise if our relationship with God is to flourish we need to put in the hard work, the preparation, the ground work. That means making time in this hectic whirl that is everyday life to pray, to read scripture – not just as a paperback on the flight to Houston - but deeply thinking and praying about God’s Word and its meaning for us. And then putting into action God's Will and Word.
I love this time of year so far as the garden is concerned, for it is a riot of colour. There are yellow daffodils and white narcissus trumpeting the bright spring days, primula adorn the borders whilst the golden forsythia bushes smother the side fences. In honour of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent – Laetare means Rejoice, I understand - the camellia bush has donned her pale pink dress whilst the Pieris japonica is starting to put on his bright red bracts. And the young robin is still hopping around seeking the bugs and insects I have disturbed. Truly the glory of God’s creation in abundance! However, in the midst of all this glorious colour and exuberant growth I am aware that I am a mere steward, my time here is limited and my garden is a tiny speck on the face of the earth that will continue in existence as long as God wills it.
I can understand St Francis of Assisi speaking of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. To him, and to me Brother Robin is just as much part of God’s Creation, part of God’s family as we humans are. Thus we humans all have a responsibility to take care of the planet for future generations. Yet in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Pope Francis said: ‘This sister [the earth] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.’ Note those words ‘our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her’. He makes it very clear that we humans are responsible for the harm done to planet earth. He calls each one of us to do more to repair the damage we have caused.
So it is horrifying to learn that America is going back on its commitment to work with the rest of the world – indeed, to lead it - in reducing the effects of harmful ‘greenhouse gases’, caused by burning fossil fuels, on the environment. CO2 is acknowledged to be a danger to the environment and to human health, yet it seems that the country would rather spend the money allocated to environmental protection on increasing its nuclear arsenal, even though there are already enough armaments in the world to destroy the planet several times over. Do we want to live in a permanent post nuclear winter where birds no longer fly and where the earth is too contaminated for plants to grow; or do we want a good healthy planet where Brother Robin sings and God’s good earth provides food and clean water for all?
As Christians we are called to treat others fairly, with respect and to think about how our actions will affect them. That surely must include taking greater care for God’s Creation, the earth and His wider family, the creatures and plants that inhabit it.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years