CHILLY spring rains, pear blossom clotted on the bough, damp
cat, seeds to sow, and a new name to paint on the incumbents board.
The reassuring prayer of a mower that starts at first pull. And
Easter everywhere. So why not preach on immortality? But first of
all, I must get those boyhood visions of graves' balancing rather
grim porcelain blooms and hands in glass cases out of my head.
"Immortelles", they call them. Rained on, spotted, rusted, they did
The Quaker hymn "Immortal love for ever full, For ever flowing
free" does more than this because "Faith has still its Olivet, And
love its Galilee." Thus we re-map our village. Drenched sticky buds
are about to burst. Sheep complain or rejoice - it's hard to know
which - in sodden grass.
Taking a country funeral on a wet spring morning is a
contradiction in terms. The high language of heaven rules out low
thoughts. At the Easter sepulchre, itself a dusty answer, the
message is: "He is not here. He is risen." Just a heap of linen.
And lavish piles of linen here, white as snow. And an angel whose
face was like lightning.
And then - maybe because Adrian is getting rid of the last signs
of winter outside - this changing of the familiar figure of Jesus,
the rabbi-healer, into a gardener, unrecognisable to those who knew
The gardener-Christ entranced Julian of Norwich. She came upon
him as he was receiving orders from his master, and dressed roughly
in a "single white coat, old and worn, stained with sweat, tight
and short. . . threadbare . . . ready to fall apart at any
"Outwardly, he looked as if he had been working hard for a long
time, but to my inner understanding he seemed to be a beginner, a
servant who had never been sent out before. Then I understood: he
was to do work that was the hardest and most exhausting possible.
He was to be a gardener, digging and banking, toiling and sweating,
turning and trenching the ground, watering the plants the
"And by keeping at this work he would make sweet streams to
flow, fine abundant fruits to grow; he would bring them to his
lord, and serve them to his taste. . . I thought that in the Lord
there was everlasting life and every goodness, except the treasure
that was in the earth. And that treasure, too, had its being in the
wonderful depth of his eternal love."
Julian's thoughts on the cultural divinity don't come amiss when
I watch gardening TV, but it is strangely upsetting that Christ's
terrible death was begun in a garden - maybe one in which he had
enjoyed watching gardeners at work. Gethsemane.
It was there that he became "sorrowful and very heavy". And it
was in the garden that he asked his Father to let this cup pass
from him - this appalling fate. It was springtime, and new life was
everywhere. He, too, was youthful. Passion - interior suffering.
The intensity of the hymns.
Samuel Crossman wrote his "Love unknown" - he had been reading
George Herbert - over the hill near here. Tragic language meets in
time and place, and above stripped altars. But the spring birds do
not speak it. They are noisy with nests and partnerships, and pure
life. And the horses on the hill do brief, cumbrous gallops,
disappearing and reappearing over the horizon. And this for no