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Word from Wormingford

11 April 2014

Ronald Blythe sees the contradictions in a funeral held in the spring

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 a turn.

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 him best.

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 moment.

"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 while.

"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 apparent reason.

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