Monday 6 April 2020

Death stalks the garden

Address given at a Service of the Word for the Community of St Brendan on the Monday of Holy Week, 6 April 2020

Death stalked my garden a few days ago. The wings and feathers of an unfortunate wood pigeon lie strewn over the flowerbed beside the water-filled famine pot where pigeons often come to drink. And I think I know the culprit: next day I spotted the feral cat we often see, skulking close by, no doubt hoping for another meal. Of course, the cat was simply doing what God has created cats to do, and deserves no moral blame - cats must kill to eat, and God feeds cats as well as people.

We all know that a different killer is stalking God’s wider garden just now – the Covid-19 corona virus – and we human beings are its prey. It appears that for most the disease is quite mild. It kills a proportion of both older people like me and those with pre-existing conditions, though even for these most will recover. The Chinese and the Koreans seem to have brought it under some control, and we can pray that we in Europe do so too, but I think most of us will be infected eventually. Lives can be saved if we succeed in reducing the rate that it spreads (‘flattening the curve’), so that the health service is not overwhelmed, and those who need intensive care can get it. This is why it is so important for us to follow official public health guidance. Let us be the good people God has made us to be by doing so, showing God’s love to our neighbours.

I do not fear death. I hope to stay around for quite a bit, to see the grandchildren grow up, and perhaps to welcome their children. I am, of course, apprehensive about dying, dreading indignity and suffering. Yet we will all die, we are mortal, and perhaps Covid-19 is not the worst death.

The way I see it is this. My life from birth to death is like a string winding through the 4 dimensions of space-time, starting at birth and ending in death. My life-string twines around the life-strings of every other person I encounter along the way, including family, friends, neighbours and strangers. God is not constrained by dimensions. God sees and knows the whole of my life-string, from birth to death. Love is what pleases God. God judges me as a function of the love I show, both for him and for every person my life-string touches, summed over the whole of my life-string. And despite the times I have displeased him, I believe that God is forgiving and will always love me, always love the whole of my life-string, just as he sees and loves everyone else’s.

This, to me, is eternal life. This is why I do not fear death.

And God’s garden is full of life as well as death. While we worry about Covid-19, the natural world burgeons and unfolds as the days lengthen, this year as every year. The buds of the magnolias in my garden have opened already. The asparagus is sprouting in the poly-tunnel. And other pigeons are billing and cooing, getting ready to raise a new generation.