Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus.

Day 31, April 13, 2020
“I Came to the Garden Alone”

            During these days of isolation, I have been showing up at our church on Sunday mornings where I set up camp from about 7:45 am until 10:15 am. The first Sunday I was afraid folks might not know we had canceled services. Since then this Sunday routine has provided a small feeling of normal during a time of upheaval. Inevitably several folks will stop by. I get to see a friendly face, we say hello, and often have a short prayer together.

Yesterday I showed up. I don’t know why but I actually put on a suit and tie for Easter. That’s how I always do Easter, purple shirt, purple tie, and anticipation for what a joyful celebration it will be. On Easter Sunday, we not only missed gathering for our 8 and 10 am services, we did not have our annual Sunrise Service in our Memorial Garden. At that service we sing a few songs of resurrection, I offer a brief message, we recite a creed, we say a prayer, and then we call out the names of all the loved ones who have had their ashes spread in the Memorial Garden. If you look right by the door from Fellowship Hall leading to the Garden, you will see two plaques listing all the names of loved ones whose ashes we have spread.

So, on Easter Sunday, after setting up my little table for bulletins and sermons and prayer requests in the lower parking lot, I went up to our Memorial Garden. I took a picture of the plaques with all the names. And then I walked into the Garden.

I came to the Garden alone…just saying those words conjures up so many special memories. The beloved hymn speaks of coming to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. On Easter Sunday I came to the Garden alone…after reading the names of the saints whose precious memories linger in that Garden. I posted a picture of the Memorial Garden on Facebook and asked folks who they were remembering from our Garden. The names came back quickly…A remembrance came from Robin Johnson for her late husband Bruce, other names were added…Jerry Kelley, Sally Scholtz, Susan Owen, Don and Virginia Allison, Stephen Brand, Randy Ezzell, Laurel Ronsley, and Joy Peck Storm. I know there are others…you know many of them. Stop and read the names on our plaques.

I came to the Garden alone…and if you have ever come to that kind of a Garden, you realize the list of names stretches beyond just those from a particular time and a particular place. As I came to the Garden alone I thought of our parents, of Carl and Clara Eberly and Bob and Jan Stone, of Sunday school teachers, of pastors who showed me the path to follow in ministry, of so many who modeled the faith we hold so dear, ones who showed by their sacrificial giving and their sacrificial living what it means to lay down your life for a friend. I came to the Garden alone, but so many names and faces joined me in the Garden.

I came to the Garden alone…but I noticed a woman had snuck in. I must have had my eyes closed as I was praying a prayer of thanksgiving for all the ones who are gone now but who left so much, so many memories, so many times of gladness, so many acts of kindness. I guess when my eyes were closed, and I was remembering loved ones this woman snuck into our Garden. I came to the Garden alone but when I opened my eyes from my prayer, I saw a woman weeping in the Garden. She had come to look for a beloved friend who had died and was buried in the Garden. I came to the Garden alone, but I realized Mary was with me…or…that I was with Mary, in the Garden. I watched the scene unfold in my mind as her tears, filled with her fears, gave way to her joy, filled with hope, ending in great love for the one who had risen from the dead. I couldn’t control my tears when the gardener called her by name. You see, he was not the gardener. It was Jesus, risen from the dead. In that Garden he called her by name. Jesus said, “Mary.”

·       I came to the Garden alone…I guess we all feel that sense of being alone right now, what with social isolation and quarantines.

·       I came to the Garden alone…and I heard Jesus call a weeping woman by her name.

·       I came to the Garden alone…and I heard Jesus call the names of all the loved ones who now hold a special place in our Garden, in our Memorial Garden.

·       I came to the Garden alone…and yes, I heard Jesus call my name.

·       I came to the Garden alone…and I heard him call your name. He said it…he said I know all my sheep by name. He said it…he said your names are written on the palms of my hands. He said it. He said Mary’s name. He said my name. He said your name.

On this first day after Easter, Jesus is with us, with all of us, and with each of us. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” (In the Garden, C. Austin Miles) Boy, am I glad I came to the Garden. What a blessed reminder that we are never alone. Jesus is always with us.

With the love of Christ,