You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
There are so many plants, shrubs and bushes in my garden; forsythia, mahonia, primula, pieris, wallflowers, roses and camellia, to name but a few. Each has a specific form and function; the butterflies swarm to the buddleia bushes but ignore others, for example, whilst the birds happily devour the berries on the firethorn at autumn time. Each is a work of art in itself but taken together as a whole picture, the effect of all these diverse plants is truly stunning. Now, I am not an expert gardener so the beauty of God’s Creation in a few square feet of my garden must be His work! Thanks be to God.
In the same way, God has given us humans a variety of roles to play as individuals and in society. As St Paul explains in his letter to the Romans (12:4-6):
4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
The point I want to make here is “though many, [we] form one body, and each member belongs to all the others”. Whilst we are individually called to do God’s work here on earth, using the different gifts we have been given, we are also called to work together. That way we can achieve so much more for Him.
Like the plants each of us is a wondrous work of art, delicately formed by our Creator, and as individuals we can achieve quite a lot, but when we work together the effect can be truly amazing. Let us then unite to praise God, to express our gratitude to Him for the wonders of his Creation and to work together for His purpose. And don’t forget that Jesus said: ‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them’ Matthew 18:20(NIV).
We are not solitary plants in the garden for Jesus is with us.
The blackbird is a member of the thrush family. The male has shiny black feathers with a bright yellow beak, whilst his mate is a dull brown in colour. One habit they have is that they are early risers, always the first of the birds to awaken. Yesterday night was quite warm so that we left a window open. Sure enough at 5am this morning, forty five minutes before sunrise, Mr Blackbird burst into song waking us and rousing every bird in the neighbourhood to join him in the dawn chorus. I would like to think, as I believe St Francis would have thought, that he was offering a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to his Creator and encouraging everyone else to do the same.
Many years ago the Psalmist wrote: I believe I shall enjoy the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living Psalm 27:13. I can quite understand that for God’s goodness is all around us. In my garden the plants and flowers are in full bloom; a golden yellow theme at present but the camellia is coming into flower so that it will soon turn to a display of blues and reds, the birds are singing and the bees are supping the nectar from those early flowers.
But maybe you don’t have a garden, perhaps you live in a high rise block of apartments where the only green in sight is the plastic bags blowing about in the draught. Where is God’s goodness here? Look out of the window to see the birds using the telegraph wires and ledges on the buildings to perch as there are no trees. Is that a hawk in the sky? Whatever is he doing in the city? But don’t you remember reading that the council is employing the services of its owner to keep down the pigeon population? Or look down on your way through the city streets. Is that a daisy pushing its way through the concrete proudly showing her flower amongst the litter and rubbish? Then there was the cheerful train announcer who burst into song this morning as he warned you that your train would be delayed. He won’t make that TV talent show, but at least it raised a smile. And then what about the colleague who made a cup of coffee for you just when you needed it?
In all these, seemingly little things we can see and enjoy the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Heaven is not somewhere up in the sky where God does whatever deities do – Heaven is here on earth.
Let us join the blackbird and the other birds to sing our hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God!
There are a number of old fashioned cottage-garden plants, often inherited from friends and relatives, growing in our garden. One that is now starting to bloom is Lunaria annua, a hardy annual with toothed, heart shaped leaves and large open clusters of purple flowers. A very grand Latin name for a garden plant but it has a more common name; honesty.
Honesty is a human trait that seems in rather short supply these days. With the social media platforms available to all and sundry these days, lies and deceptions are easily and quickly spread, soon gaining acceptance across the world. Of course this is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, St Peter writing to the young church in the Gentile community in Asia Minor at a time when violent persecution of Christianity was in the air says: ‘... having your conversation honest among the Gentiles.’1 Peter 2:12 (KJV). Since the purpose of his letter was to comfort and encourage those Christians who were already suffering some degree of persecution for their faith, perhaps we may take comfort in his message that these afflictions are only temporary and that those who suffer are drawn into a closer fellowship with Jesus and so progressively become more like Him. Indeed if we take Christ as our example, he suggests that our sacrifice, like His will not be in vain for he goes on to say: ‘whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.’ 1 Peter 2:12 (KJV).
Of course, I am not suggesting that you are all liars and cheats but are we always as open and honest in thought word and deed, with people as we should be? I leave you to think about that one.
Anyway, what has all this to do with the garden plant? Well, once it has finished flowering it sets its seeds in a flat round papery, transparent seed pod – that’s how it gets its name.
Lent this year has been a time of darkness and sadness. Just before Easter we learned of the passing of an old friend whilst the weather throughout Lent has been quite unseasonal so that the plants in the garden did not quite know what to do. They started to throw new shoots, to begin to bloom and then it snowed! That cleared up and we saw Mother Blackbird investigating the hedge hoping to find a place to build her nest. But before she could do so, it snowed again! Would it ever end? Were we to write off spring this year and move straight to winter again? Had the hope of Lent, the hope for the future died? The disciples must have thought so on Easter Saturday. They had believed that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah whom God had promised to send to redeem Israel. But since he had been crucified like a common criminal, and that could not under any circumstances happen to God’s Messiah, what were they to make of it all? Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Day and His subsequent appearances to his disciples convinced them of His true nature. Even today there always seem to be so many problems besetting us that it is so easy to lose hope. Yet the words of the late Dr Martin Luther King Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that are a reminder that hope never dies.
I lit a candle for our friend, as I had done a few days earlier for Mary whose secondary cancer finally got the better of her. And in the garden this morning I can see the pieris showing his bright red bracts with, at his feet, a sea of blue aubrietia whilst the forsythia is putting on a magnificent show of golden yellow blooms.
So even on the darkest night, or when spring seems so far off, hope is still there; a hope of resurrection. But as the plants in the garden illustrate resurrection is not simply a promise of something better in a future life. Resurrection is here and now, a new life on this earth, if only we commit ourselves to following Jesus’ example; to Love God and to Love thy Neighbour.
There didn’t seem much point staying in that locked upstairs room. Three days ago Jesus had been killed; hung on a cross like a common criminal! This morning some of our women had been to the tomb early but didn’t find his body there. They did say that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive but when Peter and John ran to the tomb, but they did not see Jesus either. Now, if what the women had said was true then it would only be a matter of time before the high priest and his men started rounding up Jesus’ disciples. “Let’s go back home to Emmaus” Cleopas said. “At least we have some friends there who will look out for us.” It is only about seven miles from Jerusalem, so we set off.
On the way we naturally got to talking about the events of the last few days. Peter had said that Jesus was the Messiah whom God had promised to send, and yes, we did believe that he was the one who would redeem Israel. But now, after all that had happened? The Messiah couldn’t die like that, could he? Yet if Jesus was not the Messiah then who was he and what had the last three years been all about?
Whilst we walked a chap came up and asked what we were talking about. Dear old Cleopas nearly exploded at that point! “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days” he roared. “What things?” asked the stranger innocently. So we explained to him the recent calamitous events. When he started talking to us we got the impression that he was a well learned Rabbi, for he explained all the Scriptures beginning with Moses and showed how they related to the Messiah. His words were so inspiring that when we got to our home we invited him in for a meal – Hannah would have been furious if I had let him walk on. He sat at table with us, talking and answering our questions, whilst Hannah fussed about getting a meal ready for us. When she placed the bowl of bread on the table he took a piece, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to us. The scales dropped from our eyes! This stranger was Jesus the Christ, the Messiah! He had risen from the dead just as He said He would. The women had been right this morning! We wanted to ask Him more but by now He had vanished from our sight. What to do then? Only one thing! We must get back to Jerusalem as quickly as possible to tell the other disciples the good news.
On the way Cleopas said to me, “We have seen the Risen Lord and so we believe. Do you think people will still believe 2000 years from now?”
Only you know the answer to that question.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years