April 12, 2020 | Sarah Stewart
Every year I try to be a better gardener. I take small steps, each year with the garden. So last spring, we started seeds inside and out in plastic segmented greenhouse boxes and peat moss plugs. We had some problems right from the beginning. The rosemary seeds we bought were really basil, so we've planted dozens of basil plants, and then most of them didn't make it as far as being transplanted into the garden. But our zinnias and our marigolds and a great deal of basil was ready around Memorial Day and we went outside to plant in the dirt. And in addition, we planted pumpkin seeds and morning glories straight into the ground. We also had some tomato seedlings that had been lovingly started by a real gardener, which thrived, and were the most successful part of last year's garden.
You know gardening involves so much waiting. We start the seeds inside and March and then we wait for them to sprout. We take the lid off of the little greenhouse box and wait for them to grow bigger. We take them outside and transplant them and plant our outdoor seeds and then we wait to see what will grow. We waited for those morning glories to rise up and they never did, something must have eaten the seeds. We waited for the pumpkin plants which sprouted wherever they wanted to, and never grew beyond soft orange flowers.
We waited for tomatoes, which threatened to take over the entire garden with tiny volunteers, and then produced an abundance in the fall. We waited for the marigolds, which grew as tall as the children; pungent guardians of the garden. We waited for enough basil to make many recipes of pesto. And of course, no rosemary. Gardening is an art of watchful waiting. The gardener does enough for today, and leaves tomorrow's work for tomorrow. We must content ourselves with weeding while we wait for the harvest, no effort of ours will make it come any sooner.
In this moment, we are all gardeners of the spirit, in the dirt or in our lives, waiting and working in equal measure. This Easter, you must glimpse the resurrection while we are still waiting for life. Waiting may bring to mind the waiting room of a hospital or a doctor's office. And right now, we are all in the waiting room of life. There is so much difficult and painful waiting during this crisis. You know this, you are waiting in your lives. You're waiting to know if sick relatives and friends will recover. You're waiting to see if loved ones in nursing homes will fall ill. You're waiting for an unemployment check. Waiting to know if you'll be furloughed. Waiting to see your grandchildren again. Waiting to go back to work, or back to school. Waiting to rehire your employees. Waiting to see your friends. You're waiting for the flood of patients at your hospital to subside. You're waiting for the tough choices to stop. Waiting for life to be less terrifying. Waiting for death to pass us over. Waiting to return to joy and life again. This kind of worried waiting is a spiritual trial. We are not the first people to wait like this.
I want to tell you a story of a woman who waited in sorrow, when life broke into the midst of her mourning. A woman named Kathy. A woman who could be any of us. A woman who had suffered a terrible and ordinary tragedy. She had suffered a miscarriage. She had gone to the hospital, but she had lost the pregnancy, and she sat in the hospital's waiting room for her husband to come and pick her up. She says “I was overwhelmed, not only because I had lost this baby, but also because it was such a struggle for us to get pregnant at all. I was sure it would never happen, and my dream of being a mom was turned into a nightmare. There in that hospital waiting room, it all hit me. And for some reason I stood up and I covered my face and I just started sobbing really hard. And the next thing I knew, I felt some stranger touch my shoulder and comfort me. It was an old woman. She said, ‘sweetheart, truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.’ Kathy said, “that just made me cry harder, because it was a verse my grandmother used to quote, when she talked about my mom being born. She struggled with infertility too. My knees buckled and I almost fell to the ground. I couldn't believe she quoted that verse. I asked her how she knew I needed to hear that verse? how she knew how precious those words were to my grandmother?” She said, ‘I don't know, the Holy Spirit just led me. I guess Jesus wanted me here. I thought I had some blood clots, so I came to the hospital, but it looks like Jesus wanted me to be with you.’
Life broke in when Kathy thought there was no life. Her waiting became a doorway to joy. She did get pregnant, two years later, at the telling of this story; her daughter was a healthy teenager. Even when we think we are only waiting and mourning, life is there with us. Kathy's waiting continued. She didn't see the joy, right away. But it was with her in that terrible moment, and in those two long years after. That joy was with her, life was with her, even in the midst of waiting. Life breaks through. Life triumphs.
In all the stories we have of Jesus’ resurrection. Women watch and wait. First at the cross, and then at the tomb. In John's telling, Mary's waiting at the tomb is drawn out for just that extra moment. When she finds the tomb empty, and she sees Jesus, she doesn't recognize him. She thinks he's a gardener. Her waiting and her sorrow are extended. Not only does she think he's a gardener, but she thinks that for some unknown reason this gardener has removed the body of her Lord and hidden it somewhere. I love that image of Jesus as a gardener. Doing the patient work of tilling the soil and bringing forth the harvest. And it makes the moment of recognition all the more sweet, that we are reminded of Mary's waiting. That it is not until he says her name, and she responds with ‘teacher’ that they reflect she recognizes Jesus.
So where is life with us in our waiting now. Social distancing seems to be working. Admissions to New York hospitals are down day over day. The news is bleak but waiting seems to be helping. Our city here in Worcester has come together to care for the homeless and the poor, even in the midst of this crisis. While we wait, families and friends are sharing love, reminding ourselves that love is not stopped by this crisis. Lawyers are seeking freedom for non-violent criminals to help them leave jails where they might be susceptible to COVID. Every person in our community is seeking to do what they can for the common good. Whether that's helping in the community if they're able or staying home to prevent the spread of this virus. Whether it's giving a phone call to show love and compassion or helping a neighbor with groceries.
In all these small moments, life triumphs. This is our Easter moment. The resurrection is always happening, even if we may barely see it right now. We are like patient gardeners, finding joy in what is still becoming. We are like Kathy, open to a message of love in the midst of grief. We are like Mary, only partly aware of the triumph of life before our eyes. Easter proclaims that death has no dominion, even when death is just beyond the waiting room door. In our sorrow, we proclaim joy. At the tomb, we say, “Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia”.
I love you.
All of us are works in progress, building our spiritual lives as we go. During Lent, we draw on wisdom from spiritual masters and ancient sources to help us in constructing our spirits.