Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John Howard Farmer

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“Easter solves the mystery”

 There is nothing so grand as spring, most especially this one. Every pore and fiber in my body is radiating love. What makes it ever so special is that it is a love that visited me from God himself.

Nineteen years ago, next Monday, my answered prayers of loneliness found form in a lady with whom I had been a friend and pastor for over a decade. So, let me refocus the first sentence. There is nothing so grand as to be in love in the spring. Wait, here’s another modification: there is nothing so grand as being in love in the spring in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Now, that’s an exclamation!

I am an emotional old fool, my response at life so familiar. I cry at the oddest moments, laugh too. Way down deep in this preacher’s heart are hidden the words to songs, thoughts and ideas that my conscious mind has long forgotten. Often when fresh from the arms of my love I begin humming a tune best heard from the lips of Nelson Eddy singing a duet with Jeanette McDonald (1930s-40s romantic duo). I see his handsome face and his tender embrace. I see him looking into Jeanette’s eyes and singing “Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found thee; Ah, I know at last the secret of it all. All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning, the burning hopes, the joy and idle tears that fall. For ‘tis love and love alone, the world is seeking. And ’tis love and love alone that can repay; ‘tis the answer, ‘tis the end and all of living: For it is love alone that rules for aye love and love alone, the world is seeking. For ’tis love and love alone that can repay; ‘tis the answer, ’tis the end and all of living, for it is love alone that rules for aye.”

Many are the mysteries of my life, my ministry. We’ve just come through the biggest, the first Sunday of April 2018—Easter. It is a time so special, so mysterious that the word itself has found no other use in common vernacular. “Easter” belongs to God, through Christ. “Easter” does indeed belong to the Church triumphant. We are Easter people.

Most local churches swelled to fruition Sunday before last. Folks who regularly find reason to miss, were attendance bound, duty sat and will not be seen often twixt now and Easter next. It really doesn’t bother me. I find it part and parcel of the mystery surrounding my Lord, the Christ. What he did there on Calvary’s Hill so long ago has such merit that it draws from the heart of many not easily quickened a duty to fulfill. It truly brings tears to my eyes. What a lovely mystery. ‘Tis yet another way in which my God speaks to me. It is not architecture, nor pulpit prowess that swells the pews. It is above and beyond such trifling aspects.

When my God hung his son on the beams of that cross, he focused such power in that deliverance that it radiates across ages yet unfolded. When he hardened his heart to the prayer from the garden he was seeking faces of children unborn, civilizations unnamed. The God of miracles was viewing the harvest faithful.

On Sundays-Holy, when he swells the roll, I stand looking upon a crowd grappling with the sweet mystery of life. You know, it is a love story. It is a fantastic one at that. A preacher long inside heaven’s gates was once asked how much God loves us? Drawing his frame, a-tippy-toe he flung his arms wide apart saying, “Jesus defined how much he loved us when he stretched his arms out as far as the east is from the west and then died without closing the embrace.” It is an ever-open invitation a love sweeter than my own. That, my friend, is as 1950s early TV host Ed Sullivan used to say, “a really big show.”

Last two weeks since Easter the crowds were missing, the faithful there, in churches near and far. Choirs relaxed, preachers droned on. Life resumed a normalcy. Yet the mystery loomed. No one save God himself could have established such an entity as Christ. No one but God could have given the man of Nazareth such a commission-lasting. Easter upon Easter it returns to visit upon the churches.

That Easter mantle pulls in the uncommitted, the disenfranchised, the raw hopeful, the penitent, yes, it even pulls in the curious. I always wonder if we make the visitors feel welcome? I always worry that I might not have been at my best for such a grand occasion. I am always on notice that what we are about over at the church-house is so special as to exist beyond vocabulary, beyond calendar. Beyond the mystery of Nelson Eddy’s love duet, even the anniversary love pounding in my chest, God has found a love for us that knows no earthly comparison. It is truly the grandest mystery of life. How is it that he could love us so?

No jokes emanate from this preacher’s mouth, no vitriolic expressions fall from tongue nor cheek. I have no bad thoughts about those missing from pews on ordinary weeks. I know that God loves them. I know that he wants me to expend my life, my ministry trying to tell them the old, old story. I need not solve the mystery for it did not begin with me. I need not solve the riddle for it is not only about me. I need be faithful to him who called me. Even that is a mystery. Why would he call me from a career industrious to organs and choir-sung stained glass, to pulpits strange? Mystery? It is indeed a mystery. I revel in not knowing why. It is about God, not me – Ah sweet mystery, God loves us. Amen.