Sermon for the Sunday after Ascension: Lockdown Gardening
24 May 2020
Borders and Edges
I’m a willing amateur when it comes to gardening. I tend to go for the straightforward things like clean soil, veg. in rows and neat stripes on the lawn. Well, ‘lawn’ is a bit of an exaggeration; it’s really mown meadow. The border is also a bit of an overstatement. We grandly call it ‘The Western Border’. It used to be a thick bramble hedge until Les and I tore it out with crowbar and axe. But the contrast between lawn and border is clear, even from this photo. The edge divides the two: predictable grass on the one side and an eruption of surprises on the other. A gardener has been here before and each year we discover some new addition: shrubs, bulbs, bluebells. We even have some planned fruit and veg. of our own among the surprises.
I spend quite a lot of time on the border – the border between humankind and God. That’s part of what clergy do. Border activities include prayer; scanning the contours of that mystery we call God; developing the community’s interaction with Kingdom values; translating divine movement; staring into the divine fog. And at this Ascension-tide, the line between humanity and divinity is most marked. The Ascension celebrates the end of those extra-physical appearances of Jesus. We believe that Jesus returns to the company of The Father in order that together they send their councillor, their advocate, their Holy Spirit to support us in the on-going work of Christ here on earth. Through The Ascension, the local can become the universal presence of Christ.
Images of The Ascension
Our reading today tells the story of the Ascension. Luke is the only gospel writer who records the event but even he, with his medical precision, struggles. And so do we. The whole canon of Christian Art on the subject is quite frankly laughable so I’ve asked Joss Jordon, aged 7, to paint us the scene and she’s done a great job. It’s bold, colourful, precise and has that vertical dimension about it which was so important for the 1st century mind. For them, heaven was above; hell was below. Joss’s picture is far more sophisticated than the Chapel of the Ascension at Walsingham, where a pair of plaster feet are screwed into the ceiling!
This boundary of Jesus’s earthly life challenges us. Our minds are stretched to the limit; language seems inadequate. We are faced with this boundary between earth and heaven, between the physical and the spiritual which Jesus crosses and unites them in himself. But also in us, The Body of Christ.
Monty Don, writing last week about the loss of Nigel, his beloved dog, points towards this mystery in which we are united
“Part of the pleasure of gardening is the connection to the rhythm of something deeper than our daily lives. It connects backwards and forwards to something of which we are only a part.”
Back to my border. There’s a big contrast between the rough grass and the teeming border. With the help of my gardening friends, I can tell you what is in the border. I can step into the border and weed, mulch, plant and harvest. And there appears to be a heavy crop of soft fruit this year and I shall be sad if I cannot share it with my jam-making brother who lives in the north. But I can tell him what to expect if the lockdown ends. I can witness to most plants in that border: the shrubs which God has thrown up and the stuff I continue to plant. I know what’s there.
As Jesus ascended he told his friends that they must be witnesses to all that has happened. They must tell of all the good things that Jesus accomplished here on earth – his teaching, the miracles, befriending of the poor and the speaking of truth to power. It was costly, we know that, but The Ascension beckons us upwards too, to continue that work as he equips us to do.
We too are called to witness to the good things we have experienced directly or indirectly from the hand of God: relationships healed, the lives saved from agony, different directions taken, new skills discovered, a new life, a peaceful death. At The Ascension, Jesus encourages us to explore beyond the border, for the treasures to be found there will colour life on my patchy lawn. Amen.