In a weekend newspaper supplement a gardening expert lamented the fact that a particularly colourful and attractive hardy perennial – a member of the aster family – was hardly ever seen in gardens because although it was easy to grow it needed support. “The moral is clear,” he wrote. “Blessed are the unsupported, for they shall inherit the garden.” That “moral” was inspired by one of the beatitudes (Matthew 5) - a beatitude which had been parodied before. Back in the nineteen sixties a piece of graffiti appeared in a public place. In large, bold letters someone had written “THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH.” Underneath, in tiny letters and in a different hand, someone else had added “if that’s OK by you.” Both examples underline the apparent absurdity of the original. In the world of nature, as well as in the cut and thrust of human affairs, the meek generally end up inheriting little or nothing. They are largely invisible. And that, as the gardening expert suggested, makes our world far less interesting than it should be.
Most of us, if we’re honest, would probably prefer not to have to be supported. But is that really a state of blessedness? The so-called “self-made man” can be admired for his determination to get on in life, but if he really imagines that his achievements are entirely attributable to his own unaided efforts he is almost certainly deceiving himself; and if he fails to acknowledge his indebtedness to “the love which from our birth over and around us lies” he becomes a singularly unattractive figure. It is the poor in spirit (those who know their need of God), those who mourn and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness who are most receptive to that love. That is why, unlikely though it seems, it is they, rather than the unsupported, who are truly blessed.
Over several weeks now, Chris and I have learned a lot a lot from the people of Wentworth and Harley, and especially the congregations of the two churches, about what it means to be supported. Since her accident, we’ve received countless messages of encouragement, offers of practical help – some of which have already been taken up – and, above all, the assurance of your prayers. Your kindness has been overwhelming. It has all meant a great deal to us. We shall never forget your kindness.
Which brings me back to the aster family and “the love which from our birth over and around us lies.” Among its many members is the rather spindly old-fashioned Michaelmas daisy. Without support it is easily flattened by autumn gales. But, despite that, its small flowers are an annual reminder of another source of support: the angels, which in Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions are God’s messengers of love. In all the batterings we receive in life the invisible guardianship of the holy angels is always present.
“O everlasting God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant, that as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so by thy appointment they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Collect for St Michael & All Angels, 29th September)