I am suffering – suffering badly – although by the time this is in print the memory of the pain I’m in will have faded completely. You see, I have spent an hour or so in the church yard this morning helping to maintain the grave yard. Today that has entailed clearing away brambles and nettles, and in the way of these ubiquitous and mean spirited plants, I have been prickled and stung in all manner of places. Why is it that although I wear long sleeves, thick trousers and gardening gloves the stinging plants always find the exposed bits of flesh and use their prickles and stings to great effect?
Forgive me, I am both exaggerating and whinging.
Our churchyard is an open churchyard which, of course, means that residents of our community can be buried in it. It also means that the responsibility of maintaining it falls on the church community and isn’t undertaken by the parish council. So I need lots of volunteers to help with mowing and clearing. I need families who have loved ones buried in the churchyard to take responsibility for maintaining and caring for graves. And sometimes I need to get in and help with the clean up process too.
Back to the brambles. There were times this morning that I had brambles trailing around my ankles and attaching themselves to my arms. At one point they were even attached to my face. I felt confined by their vicious thorns. It felt, at times, overwhelming and even frightening. But they also made me reflect on other things in life that entangle us and restrict us in unpleasant ways.
Low self image can be as painful and restricting as any hedge of wild brambles. The desire for things that others have and that we don’t possess – covetousness – can be even more damaging. Anger, selfishness, greed, possessiveness, unforgiveness can all be thorns that dig into the flesh and stop us from growing and moving in freedom.
In the wonderful letter to the Hebrews, whose author we don’t know but whose words have resonated through the centuries, we read ‘let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out before us…’ Chapter 12:1
Sin does entangle us, just as easily as the brambles entangled me today, and the result is far more painful.
With the brambles all I needed to do was use my secateurs judiciously and I was free. When I was really stuck then someone came to my rescue and gently freed me from the thorns. Getting free from the hindering, entangling power of sin isn’t so easy. Sin is pervasive and has a profound grip on our lives before we are aware of what is happening. The brambles made me sore for a few hours, nothing more. Sin can destroy our lives, the lives of others and ultimately lead us to death.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that we need to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’ Jesus gives us the courage and strength to shake off the entangling sin and to put aside all that hinders us. He saw us all struggling with the destructive tendencies and emotions of sin. He saw the lethal damage that they were doing to us and he reached through with his love and cut us free. His cross is the secateurs that will free us and allow us to be the people we are meant to be. All we have to do is ask for his help.