Covid-19 is SO big and SO overwhelming. SO much is out of our control. It feels like the ground beneath our feet has opened up and may swallow us whole. It is SO big, that today I want to go small.
Today’s gospel is the story of “Doubting Thomas.” All three lectionary years — A,B & C — it is “Doubting Thomas.” Twenty-five years of “Doubting Thomas” homilies under my belt! Sadly, Thomas has become something of a cliche and quite honestly I have run out of things to say. And two weeks ago, I preached on his kissing cousin, “Doubting Matthias.”
So, today instead of “Doubting Thomas” in the Upper Room, let’s go back to the garden. Where the very first evangelist (and my favorite saint), Mary of Magdala, comes face to face with “The Gardener” in the Gospel of John.
Because even in the darkest of times, up from the dirt, green shoots spring and daffodils still bloom. Little harbingers of hope. Easter is more than a day. It is a season.
So, let’s go small.
Once upon an Eastertide, a little boy came home singing the Pete Seeger song: “Inch by inch, row by row, Lord, please help my garden grow”. At school the little boy, along with his class, had planted bean seeds in jelly jars. Each day they tended their little glass gardens, checking the moist dark earth. Some of the children drowned their seeds with love. While others, their seeds withered from neglect. While others, theirs actually and miraculously sprouted and grew.
Tiny green shoots poked their heads into the fluorescent light. Slender green vines wound around the inside of the jars.
And then one day — the little boy proudly brought his home and set it down on the kitchen table. His mom asked, “Okay, my little sweet potato, what’s this?” And the little boy replied:
”That’s Jesus, mom. That’s Jesus in a jar.”
It wasn’t exactly “Now the green blade riseth” but it was sweet. That sweet little boy was my son Jacob (Now 32 years old and working masked on the frontlines at a Winston-Salem Publix Grocery Store.) Sadly the little Jesus vine did not survive very long — but don’t blame Jacob.
Even though once upon a time, I worked at a plant store called “Great Plants Alive”, most of the plants that crossed my threshold came home to die.
And back in the day when I still had a backyard, I was quite happy to just let Mother Earth be my gardener. So whatever grew — grew –and whatever withered – withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my rule:
If it’s green let it grow.
My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn.
Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with a hand mower and a weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.
If it’s green let it grow.
My manic-depressive mom, Mary Lou was quite the gardener. While I have been blessed with her bipolar brain, I did not inherit her green thumb. And hers was very green indeed.
When I was growing up, my mother could lash out like lightning just as easily as she could erupt in joy. Her highs and lows were beyond her control. And my mom did the best she could.
And she did her very best in the garden.
Mary Lou was totally at home in her rock garden. She relished her trips to the local greenhouses and she spared no expense at the nursery. I can still hear my dad getting upset about the bills!
The back of the station wagon would be overloaded with peat moss and potting soil, flats of flowers, hydrangeas and azaleas, and a shrub or two — or three.
The lawn would be littered with empty plastic pots, as she dug down deep in the dirt planting geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. I have a snapshot of her doing just this. Her sun kissed skin is freckled and bronze; her auburn hair peaks out from her scarf; and golden hoops dangle from her ears.
Resplendent and radiant, digging in the dirt, all was right with her soul.
Digging in the dirt is therapy.
Sowing seeds is therapy.
Fertilizing the soil is therapy.
Watering the ground is therapy.
Gardening is therapy.
Wordless, holistic, holy, hopeful, dirty therapy.
My mother’s daughter, namely me, no longer has a backyard. But I do have a little balcony. And each Eastertide I plant my little English garden in window boxes and half a dozen clar pots. I am partial to bright colors: Shasta daises; hibiscus; and geraniums. I am partial to plants of the forgiving kind, the kind that forgive me if I don’t water them as often as I should.
A little Miracle Grow, a little sunshine, a little dirt, and all is right with my soul. At least for a little while.
And as the world comes crashing down around us, Mother Earth, Mother Nature still flourishes around us. Stuck indoors, the outdoors is a source of healing — however much or little, we can access it — physically distanced. We should not be physically distanced from nature.
Go out in your backyard — if you have one — and sit in the sun.
Go out on your balcony – if you have one – and gaze up at the moon.
Open your windows. Listen to the sound of the wind. To the song of the birds.
Pull up some weeds. Turn over some stones. Dig in the dirt.
Observe ants building hills and worms wriggling in the soil.
Make cuttings of plants to start new ones.
Save seeds, do a little experiment. Save the seeds from your avocado, your tomato, your fruit. Don’t throw them away. Dry them and plant them. Who knows what might come up.
Compost all the apple cores, and potato peelings, and coffee grounds.
Because, do you remember? We are all made out of dirt. The dirt of God’s garden.
Surrounded by so much loss, engulfed by so much grief, and separated– by at least six-feet’s-distance — from the ones we love, these small things remind us that God turns over the dirt. That God buries death and turns it upside down.
Up come small green shoots , up comes new life to greet the sun.
Covid-19 may have overwhelmed us. But it will not defeat us.
At Huntington Hospital, with colored markers on a white board, the staff drew a picture of a “masked” earth shouting good news. We are strong. Focus on the good. Thank you frontline. We discharged 231 Covid-19 patients. And when each of the 231 recovered patients left the hospital, blaring over the PA system was the Beatles’ song “Here comes the sun!”
231 compared to the thousands lost may seem small — but it is BIG. It is HUGE. There are a thousand thousand small things, that staff did to get those 231 patients well and back on their feet.
And I know that there are among us medical professionals and hospital staff on the frontlines right here in our community. Nothing you do is small in the scheme of things. And whatever small thing we might be able to do to support your valiant work, I hope that we can. Nurses.org has a twenty item list of little things we can do to help healthcare workers. First and foremost is stay home. Also high priority, encourage Congress to increase the supply of desperately needed protective equipment. Give a social media shout out to boost spirits. Donate supplies. Arrange for takeout delivery. Cook a healthy meal, Leave some toilet paper on the shelves. Drop off groceries. Help with childcare. Donate blood. Thank a nurse. Do it all safely, of course, according to public health guidelines. The linked article explains how.
So, finally back to the gospel. When Mary of Magdala encounters Jesus, she mistakes him for the gardener. The gardener does lots of small things to make his garden grow. Tilling and turning over the earth. Pulling up weeds and extricating rocks. Planting seeds and watering plants. Pruning branches. Trimming hedges. Fertilizing the flowers that bathe in the sun.
So many small things, tenderly done. So many small things that can be done for the renewal of life. So many small things, that with God’s help, we can do.
Here comes the Sun!
— Joani Peacock, April 2020
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog