Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21, John 12:1-8
Now you may not want to know this but for me, I often have my epiphany moments when I am taking a shower. A time when all the bits that are floating around in my mind actually come together and, it is hoped mostly, make some sense. And so it happened this week. I was thinking about Rod, his journey of life and faith, my Mum, her almost equally long journey, the beatitudes that we have been looking at this Lenten time, the story of the woman pouring out perfume over Jesus shortly before his cruel death, the youth that are part of this service today and the moment in time that is the last Sunday of Lent, before Jesus enters Jerusalem and all that awaits.
And somehow it seemed to me that it would be good to gather the threads into a picture, a visual creation that might speak to each of us in very different ways but which would invite all of us to consider our own lives, our journeys of faith whatever they might look like and how much is before or behind us as we move toward the Easter moment again this year – a moment of death and of new life.
So I am going to ask the youth to help me and we are going to create a symbolic garden made up of the many parts of who we are in faith and in life.
So let us start, simply because we have to have a foundation, with the sand – or the earth we could call it. What is it that is so integral to our lives that we barely notice it – it is just there and informs and influences our very souls? What is your river, your mountain, your whanau that makes you who you are? It might be land, family, values, community, and, for many of us it is our relationship with the living God.....
Take time to consider as we shape some of the sand.
Then we place some stones in the sand – stones to symbolise the anchors that hold you throughout your life, the places or beliefs or people who guide your life choices and to whom you turn when all else fails, who are the voice of truth and strength for you. It may be a piece of poetry, a moment in time, a scripture, a fleeting encounter, a constant companion, a vision for the world. Think on this as we add some stones to the garden.
Whether we are young or old, jaded or enthusiastic, tired or energetic, we are on this earth to learn and to grow – all throughout our lives. It happens in different ways for different people but who we are is something that never stays still (unless of course we choose to shut down and allow no-one in). I could honestly say I have just come through a time of intense growth as I began my ministry journey. What is a time of learning that you can think of that has had a profound influence on who you are now? While you do that we will place ferns into the garden – the most beautiful of symbols for our growing and unfurling into the person God looks for us to be.
What about the challenges of life and how we have stayed afloat in the midst of them. Throughout our growing – from youth to old age – we expect to be challenged, to have major doubts and sometimes significant regrets, to see things in a different way than we might have a couple of years or a couple of decades ago. Our values, the way of life we hold dear, our understandings of God, when challenged, can make us feel extremely vulnerable. Yet there is a sense in which those challenges are the very source of our growth in ourselves, in our relationship with each other and with God and so it will be of no surprise that the symbol chosen for this is water. Water which cleanses, surprises, sweeps away impediments, waters our soil and accompanies us in its flow. So we add water to our garden.
I think this garden needs some colour yes? Let’s us call this part our joys and let us mark these with flowers. The times when we just couldn’t stop smiling, the celebrations, the quiet moments of certainty and the belly aching laughter that just wouldn’t stop. Our joys at love received and given, at gifts given and received and at generous sharing of what we have with each other. Remember the story of a few weeks back of the Palestinian Christians exuberantly celebrating the coming of the Christ child, amongst the poverty and hardship of everyday life. It is in our relationships with God, with each other, with this creation that joy is to be experienced. So let’s plant some flowers, recognising that which colours our lives with joy.
Just two more for this garden: next we add that which has inspired us, has spoken to our creative self, has encouraged our knowledge and our imaginations, and continues to feed us with all things new. Music, poetry, prose, scripture, garden, bush, sea, mountain, art, silence, crafts, seekers of truths, doers of great deeds, great questions and tricky answers, people who inspire and times of prayer and worship and community. We add some blank pieces of paper – to symbolise that which is still to be written.
And now at the last we add the light of faith – whatever that might mean for each of you. As Christians we know Jesus Christ as the light of the world – shining grace and mercy and the hope of new life to all who walk in his way, but we remember too that Christ asks more of us than just receiving blessings– we are to be that light, to express and live those blessings into our community and our world. The gift of God’s justice and compassion and mercy and love to us is the gift of the light that we are to carry in and through our lives and our relationships with each other. Blessed indeed are those who live in and of the light of Christ – and so we light these candles of faith.
Whether we are at the beginning, end or middle of our journey of life and faith maybe this time of Lent – almost into Easter – is a time to reflect on who we are, what we have been and who we can be in Christ. Young – we imagine who we can be recognising that our roots and anchors are already being formed and will help us get through and grow from all the challenges and questions and choices that face us throughout our lives. Old – we remember our lives so far, the people and events that have shaped us and the love and compassion that have held us in times of need, the ups and downs, challenges laid down, joys celebrated, wisdom shared.
All of us – we reflect on our journey of faith with a Christ who asks us to face whatever might be our Jerusalems with courage and faithfulness, knowing that in the living of our lives in grace and mercy, we are never alone. Let us be like the woman who poured out the perfume, offering generous and compassionate love to all in need. Amen
Margaret Garland as we celebrate with Rod Madill the 70 years since his ordination as Presbyterian Minister.