Dear Friends,
At either Sunday service this week you will hear a hymn that was first written as a children’s choir anthem. It is called “In the bulb there is a flower.” Elaine Bucher will sing this during Communion at the 8:00 service. At the 10:15 service, it will be the Sequence Hymn. 

“In the end is my beginning” is a quote from The Four Quartets , a set of poems by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). Natalie Sleeth (1930-1992) was inspired by those words to write “In the bulb there is a flower.” She was contemplating the change of seasons from winter to spring. (To help her in writing this hymn, she bought a potted yellow tulip plant.) She also wrote the music for “In the bulb there is a flower.” The tune is appropriately called PROMISE. 

“In the bulb there is a flower” is a hymn about resurrection. As we know from the Bible, Christ came to overcome the darkness that constantly threatens the world. His death and resurrection are the ultimate victories over the deepest darkness of death, a victory which we celebrate each Sunday as we gather together for worship. Interestingly, Natalie Sleeth’s hymn doesn’t mention the name of Jesus. For this reason, it has been criticized by some who feel that it is too vague and doesn’t point us clearly toward Jesus, “the resurrection and the life.” But I side with those who defend this little hymn. It uses simple, common, but very effective imagery to describe darkness and light, dying and the resurrected life for which Christians live with hope-filled confident hearts.

Natalie Sleeth, a graduate of Wellesley College, was the wife of a Methodist minister and professor of homiletics and spent most of her life in university environments in Evanston, Illinois, Nashville, Dallas, and Denver. She wrote over 200 choral works for children and adults. Her most well-known piece is “Joy in the Morning,” which our choir has sung. Familiar to the kids in our CGS is the round which they sing, “Go now in peace,” also by Natalie Sleeth.
First sung in a concert in 1985, “In the bulb there is a flower” has found its way into many hymnals and songbooks. When Natalie Sleeth’s husband died from cancer in 1990, he had requested that this hymn be sung at his funeral. A year and a half later, she died of a similar malignancy, and at her memorial service the congregation sang “In the bulb there is a flower.”
I’ve told this story before, but allow me to repeat it here. Virginia and I had two very dear friends, Eleanore and Irv. Eleanore was a Lutheran, and her husband Irv was Jewish, but he had a close relationship with Eleanore’s Lutheran pastor. I don’t remember the circumstances, but somewhere Irv heard “In the bulb there is a flower” and was fascinated by it. Perhaps the fact that he had been an avid gardener and outdoors person contributed. He asked if we knew this hymn, which we did, and if Virginia and I would sing it for him, which we did. Even though “In the bulb there is a flower” doesn’t use typical Christian resurrection language, I believe that in his later years Irv embraced the message of Christian hope found in this hymn. In August of 2005, a couple weeks before I began my music ministry at St. Paul’s, Virginia and I sang this hymn at Irv’s funeral.

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
Grace and Peace,

Mark Meyer
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
166 High Street
Newburyport, MA 01950