The story of the Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde is one of my favourite childhood stories. The decision of the selfish Giant to forbid the children to play in his garden plunges his garden into a permanent winter whose grip is finally broken when through a small gap in the wall children once again enter and play and bring Spring to the permanent winter. There is one tree that remains frozen as the small boy standing beneath cannot reach up to climb into its branches and so it is the Selfish Giant who reaches down and tenderly lifts the boy into the tree. So the Selfish Giant comes to realise that “Children are the most beautiful flowers of all”. At the end of the story the Giant, now old and weak, looks out on the winter landscape of his garden and sees one tree in the far end covered in lovely white blossoms. Its branches golden and silver fruit hung down and underneath it stood the little boy he loved but had not seen for many years.
The Giant hurries down into the garden with joy but as he gets near the child he cries out “Who hath dared to wound thee?” for on the palms of the child’s hands were the print of two nails and the prints of two nails on his feet. “Tell me that I may take my big sword and slay him”. “Nay” answered the child “but these are the wounds of Love”. The child smiled on the Giant and said to him “You let me play once in your garden, today you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise”. And so when the children ran in that afternoon they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms.
“I am the gate for the sheep.” Says Jesus
In the Story of the Selfish Giant it is he that prevents the children from playing in the garden, it was his reaction of anger and jealousy when he saw the children playing in his garden, that led him to build the high wall so as to keep them out. It was when he reached out to help a small boy climb a tree that broke the spell of winter in his garden and the hardness of his own heart.
To think of the Church as a garden is not as strange as it may seem. The Bible starts in a garden created by God and into which is placed humanity. The images used by Jesus speaking about the Kingdom of God point to a place where people can grow, be transformed and yes even have fun. Can this not also be true of the Church?
We are gates to the church by the way in which we make welcome the stranger or the visitor. In the book of Acts we are given a glimpse or snapshot of the early church. People met in each others homes and when they were together they broke bread and recalled the life of the Risen Jesus. We read that they “enjoyed the favour of all the people, and the Lord added to their number daily” Acts 2.47 The link between growth and “favour” Literally being open and friendly; being welcoming and supportive is obvious. Therefore if it was the case then it is still the case today.
The road to such openness and welcome still stretched before us as we negotiate the perilous landscape of our day, the competing demands for us to either allow or forbid. This journey of course carries the memories of so many who have come to us, come to the church, and found not a beautiful garden where they can flourish but a high wall of selfish resentment blocking their way.