Luke 12: 22 – 27.
A talk and reflection for the May Day weekend using the flowers of the hawthorn tree.
This talk and reflection is inspired by Christ’s use of nature to describe the ways of God. The seasonal moment of the May Day festival, which occurs as part of the community’s social life, couples with the understanding of our responsibility to God for the way we look after and appreciate the Creation of which we are a part.
In Luke chapter 12 Jesus asks us to look at the wild flowers of the field and learn something of the nature of God.
This isn’t the only time that we hear Jesus using nature as a way to describe the spiritual life.
- In John we have Jesus describing himself as the vine with ourselves as the branches.
- And then in John again, Jesus refers to himself as the seed that must die in order to produce the fruit of new life for all.
- To describe how some will respond to his words while others won’t, Jesus uses the parable of the sower.
- When talking about the end times, Jesus uses the image of the way we notice new leaves coming on the trees and know that summer is on its way, as a way of telling us to look out for signs of his coming Kingdom.
- In the Old Testament we have this very strong statement from Job as he answers the jibes of his critical friends –
‘Even birds and animals have much they could teach you; ask the creatures of the Earth and sea for their wisdom. All of them know that the Lord’s hand made them. It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone’s life is in his power. ‘ Job 12 v 7-10
All these verses suggest that Nature can speak to us of God, but clearly there is an expectation that we will have the necessary knowledge of the natural world around us in order to understand the message.
I believe that when Jesus tells us to consider the lilies (or more accurately wild flowers) we are expected to take note and appreciate what we can learn from God’s world about his ways of working.
- ( As part of the May Day service each member of the congregation will have a sprig of may blossom (hawthorn). This service could be adapted for use at a different time of the year in which case alternative seasonal flowers could be used.)
May blossom – so abundant and beautiful right now around the May Day weekend.
You can’t help noticing it as it fills the hedges along the lanes, with its mass of wonderful creamy white flowers, coming hot on the heals of the previous white blooms that have filled the hedges in April – that of the blackthorn, later to develop into sloes, famous for their part in the creation of a certain alcoholic beverage 🙂
These blossoms en masse are so striking that I have heard it commented that it looks like the hedgerows are having a wedding!
It’s not surprising that in ancient times the may blossom was seen as a symbolic representation of abundance and fertility, and was almost certainly used as part of rituals that were thought to help the crops grow.
But what benefit has the hawthorn to us now? And indeed if Jesus were to ask us today to consider the may blossom, what would it be helpful to know?
Well, first of all its been growing in Britain for a very long time and is therefore fully integrated into the ecology of the area. It is a small shrubby tree which is highly adaptable and can grow on most soils, and hence is found right across the British Isles.
As an idigenous tree it offers many benefits to other species, and plays an important part in diversity; notably it supports over 300 different types of insect, including a wide variety of moth, the larva of which can be found feeding on the leaves. The flowers which are food to dormice, most obviously provide nectar for pollinating insects, including of course bees, for which they must provide a fantastic feast. Come Autumn the flowers are going to turn into fruit, which are highly nutritious and provide an excellent food source for birds. Thrushes in particular enjoy the hawthorn berries.
The tree itself, especially when kept low as a bush or hedge makes an excellent nesting sight; the hawthorn having thorns, which are there to protect the plant, also help to protect nests, as tangled thorny branches are difficult to penetrate by cats or larger predatory birds.
From the human perspective the hawthorn has been useful when planted as a protective barrier and to keep livestock in the fields. The berries being highly nutritious could also provide sustenance during the Winter months – some here may have memories of making hawthorn jelly. Interestingly, if you asked a medical herbalist about the quality of hawthorn from a health point of view, they would tell you that it can be helpful for heart conditions, and that used correctly it will strengthen heart function.
How useful is this humble tree! And a great example of the way nature is designed, with plants and animals working together, interdependant with one another. The wonder of it must surely lead us to praise God.
So having considered the natural function of the may blossom, how might this plant be found to express something of the ways of God?
Well, first of all I would suggest abundance. God hasn’t just produced one or two flowers. No. Across the hedges we have millions, perhaps billions of flowers. Surely this speaks of a great generosity – a joy in expression of life. And it is right when we see all this splendour to respond with joy in our hearts.
Secondly we are looking at diversity. 300 insects on one tree – just one tree. Why would you have so many different types? What are they all doing? I’m sure that David Attenborough would be able to tell us what role they all have and what place they have in the ecosystem. But clearly this must tell us that God likes variety. He has created difference. As humans, difference and diversity can sometimes be awkward for us. We tend to prefer people who are like ourselves. Differences can be challenging, but God has created us each with our differences, and we need to honour and respect that in ourselves and in others, so that we might all find our place in God’s Kingdom.
Thirdly we are not only diverse, but we are interdependant. The birds eating the berries will pass the seeds around. Insects feeding on nectar will inadvertently pollinate the flowers.
Things work together and cooperate by design. And of course this is the same for us as human beings – we too are designed to cooperate together.
Lastly – if we are to believe the practice of the medical herbalist then we have here the image of a plant that can work with our hearts. Most of us will prefer to consult a practitioner at the local surgery or hospital if we think we may have a heart condition. However perhaps there is something in this element of God’s creation that can speak into our hearts and open us further to his ways……..
So we come back to consider our wild flower of the field; our may blossom.
Shall we take a moment to study our flowers? Looking carefully, you’ll be able to see that each flower has 5 petals. The centre of the flower has a slightly green tinge – this is the stigma – the female part of the flower. Dotted around this we have some pinky coloured dots – these are the stamen which hold the pollen, and they are the male part of the flower.
Some flowers are open, and some still in tight bud. Once the flower is open the bee is able to access the nectar, which the flower has produced in order to attract the bee. While the bee is doing this, it will inadvertently catch pollen on its body, spreading it about so that some pollen will find itself on the stigma where it will travel down to the centre of the flower and fertilisation will occur.
After this fruit will start to develop.
If we cast our minds outside now, we will be able to visualise those bees buzzing in the hedges, taking advantage of warm daylight hours, as they engage in the same process that has been happening for millenia. Working to God’s design – enabling species to continue in this great cycle of life.
Over the past few days you may or may not have noticed bees at work around the blossoms, but we can be sure that God has! For just as he knows when a tiny sparrow falls to the ground, so he notices, and knows about everything in his world. And he delights in what he has created.
How do we respond to God’s creation? Do we too delight in this simple flower. And as we wonder at what God has made, how might God speak to us?
Maybe there is something about these tiny flowers, some open, some still in tight bud, that can lead us to consider ourselves, and our own hearts before God.
As these flowers have opened in response to the sunlight, our own hearts can open to the light of God’s warmth. We are in need of God’s love, and to receive we need to be open to him.
As we open we become available to the working of the Spirit.
There is always healing in the ways of the Holy Spirit.
Healing, hope wisdom and love. The Holy Spirit brings about new learning, new connections, change and transformation.
And then we will notice the fruit.
The fruits of the Spirit are –
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
These are the fruits of the love of God as he works within us.
God’s love flows and from him we can draw support for growth, for generous actions, and expressions of love, even in those places of darkness, the places hidden from ourselves and others. God’s love flows to the places within us and within the world, most in need of healing.
We trust God. We trust in God above all and beyond all things. The psalmist tells us that there is nowhere that God’s awareness and love cannot reach. He knows us and loves us full well. He even saw us when we were being formed in our mother’s womb. Even before anyone knew of our existance God knew and loved us. We have been loved from the beginning.
As the bee goes from flower to flower seeking nectar it accidentally transports the pollen from stamen to stigma.
But of course there is no accident! All is part of God’s purposeful design.
We know that we are all a part of God’s plan of life.
So with our hearts open to God, trusting in his plans for us and for the whole of human kind, let us pray that we may be confident of our place and purpose both in this world and in the Kingdom to come, as we live out our lives to his praise and glory.