THE PERENNIAL SPRING
Nothing is more beautiful as Spring
When weeds in wheel, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strike like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue, that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
In the octet of this sonnet, Hopkins captured not only its beauty but also the vibrancy and vitality of spring. However glorious spring is, it is all too brief - the loveliness fades and eventually dies. But before that happens we enjoy "all things generate anew; the soil of winter is gone, and of summer is not yet come." Andrewes assured us it is God who makes "all our gardens green, sends us yearly the spring, and all the herbs and flowers we then gather." Thus spring at its very best is like a painting and we rejoice in the handiwork of the Artist. Such rejoicing can be ours forever, for there is such a spring that lasts forever in heaven. Here spring is eternal with its lushness and loveliness; where "nothing fades, but all springs fresh and green". Hence "at this time, here, but, at all times there, a perpetual spring; no other season there but that. For such 'an inheritance, blessed be God.'"
Just as there can be no spring without winter, so there can be no resurrection without death. The starkness and death-like appearances of our gardens, meadows and parks in winter remind us that there cannot be life without being stripped bare. And so Christ was stripped of every shred of dignity and honour before He shed His blood. He is the naked branch which in due time will explode with life in all its freshness and greenery. The wonderful, triumphant news of Easter, of Christ "trampling down death by death, And upon those in the tombs bestowing life" was presented by Andrewes in spring imagery. Christ "made such a herb grow out of the ground this day as the like was never seen before, a dead body to shoot forth alive out of the grave." After the broken body of Christ was taking from the Cross and embraced by His blessed Mother and lovingly embalmed, it was placed tenderly in the tomb in a garden "wherein the ground was in all her glory, fresh and green and full of flowers." During those three days in the "'heart of the earth'" there was "life in it" when Christ preached to the souls in Hades, and released Adam and all mankind gone before Him. Christ's time there was like "the earth dead for a time, all the winter". However "when the waters of heaven fall on it, shows it has life, bringing forth herbs and flowers again. And even so, when the waters above the heavens, and namely the dew of this day distilling from Christ's rising, will in like sort drop upon it, ... 'as the dew of the herbs, and the earth will give forth her dead.'" Christ's time in the 'heart of the earth' is also compared with those three days Jonah spent in the belly of the whale. When Jonah was cast up "on dry land" it was the sign for "Christ's arising out of His sepulchre, "from death to life immortal". Returning to the sonnet, Hopkins in the sextet he pens that the perfection of spring was man's too before he sinned and was cast out of paradise.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain on the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden - Have get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worth the winning
That perfection is once again possible for man through the "maid's child", who in breaking the bond of death, the sentence for man's sin, has restored the "Easter garden". Nevertheless we children of Eve, through lack of faith, continually ask, "Where may this be" this perfect Spring? As frail creatures we know only this, "It is not here - upon earth no such seat, All here savour of the nature of the soil, corrumpi, contaminari, marcescere, are the proper passions of earth, and all earthly things." After Adam's sinning in the Garden of Eden the perennial Spring of Paradise was lost, and thus unobtainable for us. However through God's infinite love and mercy the second Adam assured us of another garden, another paradise, even better than the first - heaven, from where the Word had come to reconcile Eden with heaven. By living in obedience to His Father's will He absorbed the disobedience of that first Adam into His crucified body and took it back to heaven. Here nothing is now defiled, "all things keep and continue to this day in their first estate, the original beauty they ever had." We too can hither ascend to that perfection through His death and rising. Christ not only offers us the heavenly garden but He is the perpetual gardener. A dedicated gardener knows how to root out weeds that choke growth and bloom, and so does the Risen Christ who continually weeds our garden of the soul and looks after them by watering "them with the dew" in order to bring forth flowers of grace. Yet it is not only our souls that He tends to, but also our bodies. He will "turn all our graves into garden-plots", with the firm assurance that "one day [He will] turn land and sea and all into a great garden, and so husband them, as they shall in due time bring forth live bodies, even all our bodies alive again."
This eternal garden is thus the gift of the Resurrection of Christ. Just as spring heralds the certainty of life and loveliness ahead, so does the Resurrection. This brings hope to our hearts that have been imprisoned by sin and death: "The hope of that life immortal is the very life of this life mortal." Yet the good news is that we do not have to wait until we have died to experience the eternal life because Christ's resurrection enables us to enjoy our "inheritance" now. The resurrection gives grace; "this day it has an efficacy continuing, that shows forth itself." Or as he preached in an earlier sermon, the Resurrection is the foundation of our faith.
Of all that be Christians, Christ is the hope; but not Christ every way considered, but as risen. Even in Christ unrisen there is no hope. Well does [St. Paul] begin here; and when he would open to us a gate of hope, carry us to Christ's sepulchre empty; to show us, and to hear the angels say, He is risen. Then after to deduce; if He were able to do thus much for Himself, He has promised us as much, and will do as much for us. We shall be restored to life.
THE FIRST 'FIRSTS'.
Many of us once the depth of winter is passed wait in anticipation for the very first signs of life, and what joy there is when that very first shoot is sighted emerging from the hardened earth, and the first blossom appears on the branches. In his paschal sermons Andrewes develops various themes around the word "first" which herald different aspects of life in Easter joy and gladness. His rising is "in the dawning - then is the day regenerate: and in prima sabbati - that, the first begetting of the week; and in the spring, when all that were winter-starved, withered and dead, are regenerate again and rise up anew."
Yet it was not only our Saviour who was active in those first hours of the first day of the week, but also the faithful women of Galilee. On the "'very first day of the week,' the very first part of that day, 'in the morning;' the very first hour of that first part, 'very early, before the sun was up,'" the women came "to anoint Him", not with some cheap ointment, but costly, sweet-smelling spices. "So rapt with love, in a kind of ecstasy" and wanting to be there as soon as the Sabbath was over, "they never thought of the stone; they were well on their way before they remembered it. And then, when it came to their minds, they went not back though, but on still, the stone non obstante." "Tell, them that Joseph and Nicodemus had already embalmed Christ's body, they answer, 'if all the world should have done it', they are still coming 'with their odours and do it too'. Tell them not to rush and they reply, It must be 'done the first day, hour, minute.' Tell them there is a stone, which they cannot remove, and they respond that 'they will try their strength and lift ... it.' " Every "cost, labour, pains" is for their dear Lord, and if they cannot have him alive then the next best is "to anoint Him dead". Of these women, one particularly stands out, Mary Magdalen, who in the very first hour of light wept for her Lord when she found the tomb empty. In the dawning light her grief blinded her; she stood as if "a thick cloud of heaviness ... covered her; ... [to] see Him, she could not, through it." She mistook Him for the gardener, though in a sense she was not mistaken for truly He is the gardener of our souls. As she anguishes, she hears the very first word of our Lord after His resurrection, "one word, these two syllables, Mary, from His mouth, scatters" all Mary's fears." "It drives away all the mist, dries up her tears, lightens her eyes" so that "she knew Him ... and answers Him with her wonted salutation, Rabboni." Such was her joy and delight that Andrewes concludes, "If it had lain in her power to have raised Him from the dead, she would not have failed but done it, I dare say." Christ appearing first to Mary Magdalen led to his first command after His resurrection - to tell His disciples of His resurrection and His impending ascension. This made her the first evangelist. How appropriate it was for her to be the news-bearer of life over death as it cancelled the sentence of death that came from the first woman, Eve. It is also appropriate that Christ should appear first "to a sinful woman, ... to her who most needed it; most needed it, and so first sought it. And it agrees well, He be first found of her who first sought Him; even in that respect she was to be respected." Mary had done what Eve should have done after she sinned, repent of her sins. Furthermore by appearing first to Mary of Magdala "there is opened unto us 'a gate of hope,' two great leaves, as it were; one, that no infirmity of sex - for a woman we see; the other, that no enormity of sin - for a sinful woman, one who had the blemish that she went under the common name of peccatrix, as notorious and famous in that kind; that neither of these will debar any to have their part in Christ and in His resurrection; any, who will seek Him in such sort as she did." So crucial was Christ's command for Mary to tell of His Resurrection to His disciples, that He commanded her noli me tangere but go in all haste. "As if He should say, Go to, let us have no touching now, get you to them the first thing you do, and tell them of it. It will do them more good to be told of this, than it will do you to stay here and touch Me never so often." So Mary went with all speed to the huddled apostles to be the first evangelist in that first light of morn.
"That Christ thought the notice of it so necessary, the bearing of it so every way important, as we see He is careful no time be taken from it; but with all possible speed, with the very first, they acquainted with it. So careful as He would not take so much, or rather so little time from it, as wherein Mary Magdalene might have had but a touch at Him; but takes her off, and sends her away in all haste. As if some matter had lain in it, if they should not have heard of His rising before the sun-rising."
"The sum of the text" as delivered by Mary Magdalen is to know that you know I have risen "there be others who know not so much, and because they know it not, sit in sorrow, heavy and half dead at home." Thus, "it would comfort them much, revive them, put life into them again, to know what you know. Now you are well, think upon them who are not." So Christ's first charge to His apostles is to "remember what was your own case but even now; you cannot do a better deed than carry comfort to the comfortless. I would they knew of it, I wish them well, they be 'My brethren,' however they forgot themselves when time was." We also "cannot do a better deed" than have as our first act each day time in prayer and meditation with our Lord so that our we can always manifest in our lives the message of that first Easter morn "Christ has risen! He is risen indeed."