By Patricia Greene,
St John Fisher, West Heath

It’s that time of year again!

In every corner of the Diocese, an unsung army of horticultural heroes are beginning to emerge from their winter hibernation, dusting the cobwebs off their wellington boots and ceremoniously rolling out the lawnmowers, in excited anticipation of the end of what seems a prolonged winter and the onset of spring. The gardeners are out!

Already, evidence of their handiwork is beginning to be visible in the car parks and gardens of our Churches – the smell of cut grass, the display of pruned roses and the plethora of spring flowers synonymous with that most beautiful of seasons – Easter.

The gardener’s repose during the dormancy of winter – is over – and no other liturgical celebration highlights the significance of gardens more than Easter.

There is ample evidence in scripture to affirm God’s love of gardeners and his delight in gardens. In Genesis 2:8-9 we read ‘The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food’. Thus, the Garden of Eden was perfect. It offered beauty, protection and sustenance to that first gardener, as well as fresh water to drink.

Unfortunately that particular gardener – Adam – in a moment of temptation lost sight of the fact that he was only the gardener – and disobeyed the instructions of the Master in terms of what fruit he could enjoy from the produce of the garden. Thus the Garden of Eden became a garden of rebellion and transgression.

Despite this, many of the Old Testament prophets continued to use garden imagery to promote the beauty of God’s promises to his people ‘The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail’ (Isaiah 58:11).

This delightful imagery of God’s goodness is further exemplified in the poetic Song of Solomon. In 4:16 the author cries ‘Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choice fruits’.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus too used garden imagery as a way of illustrating the theme of God’s benevolence, protection and goodness.

In Matthew 13:31-32 we read ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches’.

Jesus often referred to gardeners as ‘sowers’; most famously he narrated the parable of the sower (Mt 13: 1-9), describing the ways in which the seeds sown are affected by the type of ground on which they fall. Furthermore, in Mark 4:26-29 Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a man who scatters seed on the ground – again alluding to the gardener’s work of sowing – the growth of the seed only becoming visible with the passing of time; its reaping at the appointed time.

However, perhaps the most famous garden in the New Testament is the Garden of Gethsemane, a place familiar to Jesus (the Divine Gardener) where he sought solitude, rest and prayer, but which, following his Last Supper, became a garden of suffering and rejection as he struggled and was ‘overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’ (Mt:26:38). The writer and scholar C S Lewis reflected that ‘In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from him. It did not.’

Following his passion and death, it was in another garden that the body of Jesus was placed ‘Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So they laid Jesus there’ (Jn 19:41-42). Interestingly, it is in this garden that the drama of the Easter narrative is enacted.

It is to this garden, on Easter morning, that Mary Magdalene is drawn – the first to encounter the risen Christ.

However, in her grief and desolation at finding Jesus’ tomb empty, she fails to recognise him until he calls her name ‘Mary’. Then, recognizing him she ‘turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic ‘Rabboni’ (Jn 20:16). This highly emotional scene is beautifully celebrated in the poem ‘Mary Magdalene’ by George Macdonald’ –
‘Run, Mary! Lift thy heavenly voice;
Cry, cry, and heed not how;
Make all the new-risen world rejoice –
Its first apostle thou!’

At the end of this year’s Lenten journey, we will again celebrate the passion, death, resurrection and triumph of the Lord.

However, as we journey towards Easter, it is appropriate and fitting to briefly turn our eyes towards the gardens of our Churches and commend the unstinting and faithful work of the gardeners and the sowers.

For these heroes have not been ‘in the arms of Morpheus’ (asleep) for the winter months, but rather, have been busying themselves harvesting, feeding, pruning and planning for the seasons of spring and summer when the sowing, planting and mowing begin again in earnest.

This writer has briefly called to mind three gardens of God – Eden, Gethsemane and the Garden of the Empty Tomb. In reflecting on these gardens, it is perhaps appropriate to leave the last word to the playwright and author George Bernard Shaw who wisely said ‘The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there’.