Gardens Alive

Child walking in garden
Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Where I live, it’s time to plant summer vegetables. The fig trees, eager to awaken early, have already unfurled their leaves. Dozens of artichoke, pepper, eggplant, and tomato seedlings have been growing inside since March, and are eager to play outdoors. Perennial kale and rhubarb are springing up. It’s only appropriate that many of the lectionary readings in May and June concern food plants.

Last year, when the pandemic kept many people at home, backyard and balcony vegetable gardening began sprouting everywhere. Friends were asking where to buy seeds, since all the usual sources were running out. Apparently, many working from home were finding gardening a healthful excuse to enjoy nature in their own backyards.

What a welcome revelation this was. I hope this spring sees many building on their newly acquired skills for a second season. Growing our own food offers abundant benefits. On a practical level, our soil benefits from materials, such as horse manure, wood chips, compostables, and cardboard, that our neighbors are eager to give away. We can choose from far more varieties than the grocery provides, and save our seeds from year to year. Our labor doubles as exercise. We pick fresh as needed just before preparing, give some away to neighbors, and store more for fall and winter. We find satisfaction cooperating with nature’s miraculous processes. And no matter how much we know, there is always more to learn—new vegetables and fruits, new pests to contend with, new farming methods to try.

On a spiritual level, growing our food connects us ever more closely with the earth’s wonders, which unfold in ever greater intricacy the more scientists study soil and plant growth, and thus enrich our marveling at the creativity and generativity built into life itself. The agricultural metaphors scripture provides, comparing human life to vines and branches, fruit-bearing trees, the blessing of providing shelter and nourishment for others—these are all filled with new meaning as we watch the daily generosity of growing plants. And sharing nature’s intimate wonders with our children and grandchildren—who love the worms, the grasshoppers, the birds, and the butterflies that populate our fruitful world—constantly offers new discoveries and teaching moments.

Some church, having seen the benefits, have likewise begun replacing their lawns with gardens. One congregation I know in Louisville grows carloads of produce every year for a food pantry where clients otherwise receive only canned foods. Another congregation welcomes children every summer to garden camp, where they learn to grow and prepare their own vegetables. Yet others have turned their grounds into native prairies or woods where species that have otherwise been crowded out by suburban development can find a home. A group of Christians I know in Kisumu, Kenya, transformed their regional office grounds into a fruit tree nursery, growing seedlings to distribute to schools, hospitals, and churchyards not only for food and shade but to push back on the Sahara Desert’s encroachment. All these enjoy the benefits not simply of thinking about creation but of participating in its processes and witnessing its exuberance. What place does gardening have in your congregation? 

May 2 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
  • Psalm 22:25-31 claims that dominion over all, including future generations, the poor, and the entire natural world, belongs to God.
  • John 15:1-8 compares Jesus’ disciples to branches of a vine. Abiding in Christ, we bear fruit, and ask for whatever we need.
May 9 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
  • Psalm 98 calls all the earth to break into a new song, joyful praise for God’s victorious deeds. The sea and its inhabitants will roar, the earth and its creatures too, while floods and hills rejoice.
  • John 15:9-17 claims that Jesus chose us to bear good fruit.
May 16 – Seventh Sunday of Easter
  • Psalm 1 describes those following God’s ways as well-watered, fruitful trees, overseen by God and prospering in all actions.
  • 1 John 5:9-13 proclaims the most fundamental Christian truth: life itself.
May 23 – Day of Pentecost
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14 describes an army of human bones, people who had lost hope and given up, standing up ready for action when the prophet spoke.
  • Psalm 104:24-34, 35b declares, “How manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures,” and describes every creature’s dependence for food, life, and being itself.
  • Romans 8:22-27 reminds us of several important ecological truths: all creation is groaning in labor pains; hope consists in things not yet seen; and the Spirit intercedes, helping us when we do not know how to pray.
May 30 – Holy Trinity Sunday
  • Isaiah 6:1-8 describes Isaiah’s eagerness to witness to an earth that was filled with God’s glory, and a people of “unclean lips,” blind to this very glory.
  • Psalm 29 describes God’s voice over the waters: powerful, majestic, wilderness-shaking, changing even creation’s most powerful forces, and blessing God’s people with strength.
June 6 – Second Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary 10B)
  • Deuteronomy 5:12-15 enjoins a Sabbath rest that extends to family, employees, and farm animals alike.
  • Mark 2:23-3:6 proclaims a renewed relationship among humans, the Sabbath, and the natural processes of human healing.
June 13 – Third Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary 11B)
  • Genesis 3:8-15 describes the consequences of transgressing the environmental limits set by God in the Garden of Eden.
  • Psalm 130 expresses deep hope for restoration, forgiveness, and redemption. 
June 20 – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary 12B)
  • Ezekiel 17:22-24 tells a parable of God’s planting a sprig that becomes a noble cedar, providing shelter and fruit for every kind of bird.
  • Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 compare the righteous to a flourishing palm or cedar tree, producing fruit even in old age.
  • Mark 4:26-34 compares God’s realm to the growth of a seed into grain, and to a mustard seed that, like Ezekiel’s cedar, grows to offer hospitality to many different birds. 
June 27 – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary 13B)
  • Job 38:1-11 recounts God’s questioning Job from the whirlwind, emphasizing human inability to comprehend the natural world’s intricate wonders.
  • Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 celebrates God’s command of a chaotic storm at sea that overwhelms human travelers.
  • Mark 4:35-41 reinforces our own lack of control over nature by recounting the disciples’ incredulity when even the storm obeyed Jesus.

Patricia Tull’s bimonthly Working Preacher column, “The Great Community,” focuses on ecological themes for preaching.