5th Sunday of Easter – 2 May 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 9: 26-31; Responsorial: Psalm 22. II: I John 3: 18-24; Gospel: John 15: 1-8

Mont St Michael with winter snow. Source unknown.

The Holy Spirit, on this 5th Sunday of Easter, brings us on our Gospel journey through great challenges to powerful promises and a walk with Jesus in His holy vineyard. We are called to journey in the Gospel Garden. I believe it is no coincidence that as we reflect on our risen Christ this Easter season that we realize much of the Easter story is found in gardens. From the passion of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to the fearful joy of the Garden Tomb Jesus brings us His Gospel, in so many ways in creation. Whether it be the wilderness testings, the mountain top transfiguration, the beauty of a cloister garden or our own humble gardens for God we can grow, fruitfully as we abide in Christ in His Gospel Garden.

But there are very real problems and perils we must face. In many ways, it is illustrated in the unique winter scene of Mont St. Michail off the coast of Normandy France. For many souls, life is much like a wasteland of frozen faith or hopes. Or maybe their faith is strong yet their call from God has brought them to places of great draining demands or isolated aloneness. But their faith, their love is focused on the beautiful mountain of their Lord and so to their home they press on. They, like each believer, seek to grow in the Gospel Garden.

In our own little garden at home we are approaching the peak of the spring time beauty. In spite of all the worries and concerns of life the garden, the flowers, trees, ferns and weeds all simply seek to grow and to be. I was observing and appreciating all this this week as I prayed upon our Scripture readings. But I have also been very saddened by the ongoing strife and judgement throughout the Body of Christ. This infects Christians whether they be Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant. The worldly spirits of politics, nationalism, and moral tangents tempts us to have our focus on the Gospel, upon Christ to be clouded or blinded. The growing fervor to decide, to judge whether others are worthy of the Eucharist or the mercy and blessings of God is something perhaps we can reflect upon as we walk in the Gospel Garden.

I have always been grateful that in the garden, regardless of the season, I have never observed the plants arguing. While a rose may be very large and rich in beauty it is content to grow alongside a simple perennial with countless tiny flowers. The clematis growing on the fence seems to have no concerns about judging the Calla lily across the path or the azalea at its feet. . The large Hawthorn tree seems actually to enjoy sharing its shade with the corral bells growing beneath its limbs. Each creation is intent on simply growing to be that which it is created to be. and to share that creation with their neighbor.

Now I know there will be those thinking the deacon is really losing it. But stay with me and together let us seek Jesus in the garden and in His Word for this Sunday.

In the first reading from the Book of Acts we have a dramatic glimpse in the Gospel Garden of the early church. The Church is alive and growing. In the holy mount of the mercy of the risen Lord they find a rich, joyous garden bed of life and fruitfulness. But then Saul of Tarsus shows up in Jerusalem. The disciples, knowing full well his reputation and background, are fearful and do not want him…in THEIR garden. Except for Barnabas, who takes Saul into his heart and under his wing. And the Holy Spirit brings the Church from their fears to grow in true holiness of the love of God. The welcome, the blessing, the mercy of Jesus brought not only the disciples but Saul into God’s Garden and Saul grew to be the man God created him to be, St Paul the Apostle. God’s garden was growing!

The Gospel Garden is a place of Life. Eternal, abundant, fruitful LIFE! And, as in any good garden, it will be tilled, pruned, weeded and…loved. It is to the Gospel for this day we hear Jesus speak of His will for our lives to be fruitful. And again in the garden we learn something of this. I have never encountered an apple tree judging an orange tree as unworthy of being a part of God’s garden. Nor have I ever heard the many vineyards telling the olive trees they MUST grow as the grape vines because, after all,THEY, were the example Jesus used!!!! Each tree, plant or vine simply grows where God has planted them to be, fruitful in the life God has given them.

Now the metaphor of the garden has limitations. Some would be quick to remind us plants do not have moral character. They have not the ability to choose. Or so is commonly understood. The lessons of Scripture, of the saints (St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Juan Diego and many others) would enlarge our hearts to realize there is far more to creation than our eyes see and our minds comprehend. But one thing our walk in the garden with the Risen Jesus would affirm for us is the Gospel Garden is, for all its simplicity, a place of holy truth.

St. John the Beloved, in our second reading teaches without ambiguity or complexity that we can know we belong to the truth if we simply “…believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another…”. It is in this epistle John confirms what he shared in our Gospel..to believe in Jesus, to love as He loves us. He shares, too, in the Gospel that this simple fruitful life is ours as we remain or abide in Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave this Gospel to John many decades after the resurrection of the Christ. The Church had grown through many amazing graces. As it had grown John was also seeing the Body of Christ, the Living Eucharist, grow in complexity and conflicts. As John shared those words that Jesus shared just moments before His Passion was to begin…in the Garden… we can sense the longing of God that we not be distracted by lesser issues and places. We can sense the longing of Jesus for us to simply abide in His garden, to abide in Him, fruitful, holy, loving. But… what about?????

But is this too unrealistic? It may seem to be utterly foolish when we face with the harsh pragmatic realities and issues we must deal with as people and as Christians. When unborn girls and boys are being aborted how can this even apply? If a someone refuses to agree with the sacredness of life, as we may believe, how, then should they receive communion? If there are those whose life style does not agree with what is taught and understood from the Church how can they expect any blessing from God? How can a “walk in the garden with Jesus” even make any sense?

These issues are very, painfully real. And if we just focus on the issues, instead of the person, the people dealing with the issues we will find cause for judgment, rancor and strife. And these are only two examples. In every parish these issues will be present but so will many more (greed, pride, heterosexual lust and much more) . But the parish, the church, is NOT ISSUES. It is human souls. And it is God’s garden. While it is so much easier and simple to judge those who may sin in ways that have no appeal for me it ignores the reality that we are all wounded, scared, messed up. We are all sinners except for God’s grace. If we waited until we are perfect before we go to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in holy communion none of us would (honestly) receive. And the prayer we all share “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed”, is unnecessary. So….Let’s go back to the garden.

The plants are not concerned with judging each other. The grape vine is concerned only in growing…grapes not olives, apples or roses.

WHAT IF, together, we simply seek to grow in the holy creation we each, individually, and together, are in Christ?

WHAT IF, as these moral creatures we are, we choose to show each soul we meet the Gospel beauty of life, the hope, the mercy that Christ will give to those who seek Him?

WHAT IF, instead of judgment we offer the merciful shade of grace and kindness to souls seeking simply to be, to love, to trust God for where they are at that moment of their life?

WHAT IF, we seek to grow in faith in God, and each other, as love believes all things, and we seek to love as Jesus loves us?