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Easter 5

Sunday, 28 April 2024
Rev Janet Spence

Our love must extend to every single human being, which is way beyond our human capabilities ... if we try to do it on our own.

Easter 5

It all begins with God’s love.

In case we ever forget this basic, essential fact of our faith, our epistle reading from 1 John makes it crystal clear... God is the source and the definition of love. God is love. God’s love is a truth more fundamental than the ground we walk on; than the air we breathe.

1 John insists that the more fully and completely we know God, the more the immense reality of God’s love dawns on us. When we open ourselves to God’s presence, we discover that even the deepest, darkest most shame-filled parts of ourselves are not beyond God’s reach.

Nothing in us is so broken that God does not desire its transformation through love’s action in us. God embraces us as we are, loves us as we are, and, at the same time, works in us to make us clean and whole and new.

But this is not all about cosy feelings and bliss filled days. There are implications to living in this boundless love.

If we know God’s love, we know too that it is unearned, undeserved, gratuitous. So, seeing ourselves as God’s beloved means, also, seeing and recognising others as God’s beloved. Even those who are, in our human eyes, unlovable. Undeserving. Beyond the limit. So think of ... the drug dealer; the child abuser; the war monger; the thief. The person I despise the most; God loves them no less. All are loved by God; and even more than this, we, God’s beloved, are called to love all.

It is deeply unsettling and challenging. It is the scandal of God’s gratuitous love.

Called to love others as God has loved us, we can place no boundaries on this love. Jesus repeatedly ignored the limits that religious authorities imposed. He ate and talked with people whom the religious leaders had rejected as heretics, sinful, filthy and despicable.

He touched people who were considered untouchable; he welcomed people whom everyone else had rejected. His harshest words were reserved not for the impure, but for unloving, self-righteous people, often people who were religious leaders (and so I am speaking as much to myself as to anyone else here). He spoke harsh words to any who saw some of God’s children as unworthy of their attention, and unworthy of their love.

If Jesus shows us what God’s love is like, then there can be no doubt how far our love for others must extend. Our love must extend to every single human being, which is way beyond our human capabilities ... if we try to do it on our own.

Which leads us to our Gospel passage.

We do not need to fear or tremble at the demand, for we are branches of the true vine. If we abide in the true vine, we are nourished, and fortified by the source of life that flows into us from that true vine.

In society today, going it alone, doing it ourselves, being independent of the need for help, is often seen as a strength. But this can place a huge self-created burden upon us leading to a feeling of ‘it’s all down to me!’ which can all too easily lead to self-criticism and even self-hatred when we feel we’ve failed.

Abiding in the true vine we rest in God, and know that God is the source of our strength and truth, and thus we are enabled to flourish.

This passage of the true vine reminds me of a book I loved as a child, and then rediscovered as a parent when my own children discovered the film, The Secret Garden.

In this beautiful resurrection story, a young girl, Mary, whose parents have died, is sent to live in the large and rambling house of her uncle. His young wife has died, and his son, Colin, is bed bound, living a life of isolation, darkness and chronic pain. Life has dealt this family a sequence of terrible blows leaving them cut off from one another, and struggling to know how to live.

Mary, in her isolation and boredom, in this death-filled life, finds comfort in the grounds and wildlife around the big house, and is guided to the Secret Garden of the title by a friendly robin. A local boy, Dickon, befriends Mary, and when she tells him of the secret garden, she expresses her fear that ‘maybe it’s all dead’, for it’s hard to see life in the entangled, neglected rosebushes that appear lifeless, grey and fit only for a bonfire.

But Dickon, a Christ like figure in our story, knows how to reveal life that lies within – he cuts off some bark from a part of the entangled vine-like branches and reveals a flash of green underneath the grey.‘See?’ he says, ‘It’s wick.’

“Wick,” repeats Mary, looking at the green. “What’s wick?”

“Alive. It’s all alive. There’ll be so many roses here, Miss Mary. You’ll be sick of ’em.”

And, of course, Dickon is right. The garden, despite all appearances is alive!

So together they work through the seasons, pruning and clearing, and over time, sure enough roses of every colour blossom in abundance. Eventually Dickon and Mary secretly take Colin to the garden in his old-fashioned wheelchair, and before long Colin, experiencing the life in this secret garden discovers latent life within himself, discovers that he too is wick.

Here, in this stunning story, is the story of Christ the True Vine.

As I pondered this resurrection story, I found myself asking where the locked walls of an abandoned garden, with Christ hidden within, might be found today? And I found myself looking at ourselves...

Do we, the Body of Christ, sometimes look more like a tangled thorny mess of old twigs than a flourishing garden? There are those who say ‘the church is dead’! But that’s not true ... we are the body of Christ and there are abundant flourishing areas in this Cathedral’s garden of life: work of the Eco, Social Responsibility, and Faith and Growth Committees; Soul Food; the work to be a regenerative Cathedral; the welcome offered to visitors yesterday by the Cathedral Friends, and much more.

But gardens always have areas in need of a good prune to reveal the ‘wick’ within. What areas might need pruned, or cleansed in order that the source of life might be revealed; that there may be roses blossoming in abundance? For God’s promise is true. We are ‘wick’. We are alive. Our call is to abide in the true vine, and not be afraid of our good gardener’s pruning secateurs that allow life in us to flourish.

In the film, Colin’s father returns and tells Mary, ‘You brought us back to life’. He learns to laugh and live and love again, and Mary learns, through building relationship with Colin, and Dickon, and her uncle, and with the wildlife and plants of the garden, to look at her own pain, to cry, and to allow it to be healed.

‘If you look the right way,’ the story tells us, ‘the whole world is a garden’.

And in our extraordinary world, this extraordinary garden, where God is the gardener, if we abide in Christ, the true vine, and can look honestly at ourselves and recognise the pruning that the good gardener may need to do, we will bear much fruit. It's a resurrection story in which I pray we will all play a part! Amen

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