Sermon from April 1, 2018, Easter

Resurrection: The Secret Garden    
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
April 1, 2018   Easter
Psalm 118; Jeremiah 31:2-5, 23-25; John 20:1-18

Once a parishioner was explaining Easter to her young daughter.  She said that some people think Jesus rose from the dead and walked on earth and talked to his friends, but other people think it was just that his spirit filled his friends after he died.  The girl thought for a minute and asked, “What does Tom think?”

The first thing Tom thinks is that thinking is not the most useful way to approach the resurrection.  It may help to think of people who have briefly died and come back from the dead who describe a life beyond this life where they meet a being of light.  It may help to think of seeds that go down into the ground and decay so that a new green blade can rise.

Thinking about such things can remind us of the resurrection of Jesus, but it cannot give us proof.  There is no logical explanation, there were no live-action film crews, but our heart can experience the resurrection as true in a way that we could never be able to think it.

I believe that we each have something like a Secret Garden within us where the Spirit that created us has left evidence of the resurrection for us to find.  It may seem hidden, but when we search for it with our whole heart, we will find it.  Like the children in the The Secret Garden, what moves us to search for it is our need and our love for what resurrection can do.

It is such a joy to have Steve Ferraris with us today, not only for what he does with drums but also for what he does with lives. 

Steve drums with at risk youth to improve their resilience and with people in drug treatment centers to increase their chances of resurrection.

We can find resilience in our inner Secret Garden, but we will not look for resilience if we do not need it.  A tree on a calm day does not need resilience, but when an ice storm bends it over, then it has need, and its love of life drives it to keep seeking what it needs.  Steve’s drumming programs build resiliency by aligning struggling people with the deep need and love that beat in their hearts.

Resurrection requires need and love, too.  We cannot be resurrected unless we have first been in some sense dead to life because of illness or hurt or loss, and now have both a need to live anew and a loving desire to live.

Nor can we see Christ resurrected unless we are in a place of need and love.  We need to need it to be true, we need to love and long for the risen Christ.  It is no wonder that Mary Magdalene was the first to see him.  She needed and loved him so much that she got up in the dark and went to the garden tomb and wept, and through those tears of yearning, she saw him.

The book, The Secret Garden, was written in 1911 by Frances Hodgson Burnett, out of her own need and love.  She was seeking resilience and resurrection after the death of her sixteen-year-old son.

In the book there are three characters whose lives have become deadened by loss.  A girl named Mary Lennox is orphaned and sent to a manor house in Yorkshire, England belonging to her uncle.  She arrives, a hateful, miserable, selfish girl.  Her uncle, Archibald Craven, has completely given up since the death of his beloved wife ten years ago.  She died after a fall from a tree in her favorite garden, but not before giving birth to their son, Colin.  Colin lives in the shadow of death.  His mother is dead, his father absent and he is sickly and expected to die.  Like Mary, Colin is hateful, miserable and selfish.

All three of these characters are so lost in their misery that they are not aware of needing or loving anything.  It begins to change when Mary hears about the garden, and how her uncle was so sad after his wife died that he locked the door and buried the key.  No one has been inside it for ten years, and the door is now lost behind thick ivy.  Hearing that story makes Mary long to find the secret garden and bring it back to life.

Mary also hears about Dickon, a twelve year old boy who gives rides to squirrels in his pockets and is followed by a fox and raven.  Dickon is so full of life force that he seems to work a healing, loving magic wherever he goes.  Just hearing about it fills Mary with longing to experience that power.

She gets into the Secret Garden and becomes full of Dickon’s power, but not by thinking.  She gets there by a longing need and love.  Longing opens her heart and magic happens.  Nature speaks to her.  A robin shows her where the garden is.  A dog unearths the key.  A wind comes up at just the right moment and shows her the door.

More magic happens once she gets inside, and her life and the others’ are all transformed by it.  They see that the power giving them inner resilience and resurrection is the same that renews the earth in the garden.  They call it The Big Good Thing.

Without knowing the Psalms, their hearts sing what we read today: “We shall not die, but we shall live.”  Without knowing Jeremiah, they discover the truth of his prophecy, “All who are faint I will replenish.”  The children come to believe in resurrection power.

They did not get to that place by thinking.  The secret garden revealed its magic to them because they needed it, because they loved it.

And what about us?  What about those of us who are struggling, who are sick, who are weary, who feel hopeless or lost, who are addicted, who are anxious or fearful, who cannot let go of our anger, who are in grief?

If it helps to know what I think about the resurrection, if it helps to hear me say yes, I think there is a power of love and life and light in this world strong enough to raise the dead, and I think that power is available to every one of us and is within us right now—if that helps, then I am glad to say it.  The boy Colin insisted that part of the magic enabling him to get up from his wheelchair and walk for the first time at age ten was saying he believed in it.

But what I think or say is not going to change you unless you feel the longing to experience it yourself.  Christ’s resurrection will help you only if you feel a need for it.  He will appear to you as he did to Mary Magdalene only if you feel a longing love.  You can enter your deep secret garden of resilience and resurrection only if your need and love lead you to look for it and trust in it.  If you do that, then signs and guides will appear to help you.  All of nature will conspire with you.

Once you experience the magic of resurrection, then like Mary in the book, or like Mary in the gospel, you will probably feel driven to share it with others who need it as much as you do.  This is the 12th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Today’s struggling world desperately needs you to fill up with resurrection power and go out from your secret garden and put that magic to work.  For the world’s sake as well as your own, I invite you to seek the evidence in your heart that Christ’s resurrection is happening within you now.

Let us pray in silence…


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