It isn’t often that the timing of Easter and the coming of spring cooperate as nicely as they have this year (at least around here). Buds appeared on the trees a little earlier than usual, but waited until Easter week to pop out into leaves. Now, green is rapidly replacing brown as the dominant color, as if celebrating on cue the resurrection of Christ.
Birds are busy building nests. Bulbs are sending sprouts up through the surface of the soil. As I write, a gentle rain is soaking the ground, bringing a richer shade of green to lawns and new growth to perennial plants.
Soon, the muddy earth will be firmed up by stronger, deeper roots, the forsythia will burst into splashes of yellow, and warmer temperatures will become the rule instead of the exception.
I’m grateful to live in a place where the transition to spring is so noticeable. I was talking about this just recently with someone else who, like me, grew up in the South, where the climate is so warm that winter hardly happens at all. As children, we simply did not appreciate the coming of spring. Flowers were in bloom by Valentine’s Day, which means they weren’t gone long enough to really miss them.
In fact, we barely noticed autumn – it came around Thanksgiving when our thoughts were turning toward the holidays, and the colors were not nearly as brilliant as they are here. As for winter, I’ll take snow over hurricanes, tornadoes, and dust storms any day. Snow can be moved, and eventually it just melts, and before it goes, it is beautiful to behold.
For as long as human beings have been working the earth to produce food, spring has been associated with the coming of new life. Old pagan myths often featured stories of creator gods being put to death by destroyer gods, and then raised to life by redeemer gods. This basic narrative explained the cycle of the seasons. It’s not hard to see how the Christian Easter could be reduced to something similar. In fact, the name “Easter” refers to an ancient Germanic goddess of spring. When Christianity spread northward through Europe, existing cultural ceremonies were infused with Christian symbolism. Since the celebration of Christ’s resurrection was always during spring anyway, it wasn’t much of a leap to attach it to festivals that were already popular.
But it is important to remember that the timing the Christian Holy Week is rooted in an actual historical event. It is tied specifically to the Jewish festival of Passover – which has nothing to do with the coming of spring. It is instead the time to remember God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and to celebrate God’s saving work in every generation. During one Passover about 2000 years ago, Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross just outside the wall of Jerusalem. His death and resurrection represent a new Passover – an act of universal divine deliverance, the beginning of a new order that will ultimately unite all of creation. As I’ve written before, the resurrection of Christ is not a metaphor for spring – it’s the other way around. Jesus did not sprout leaves, break out of a cocoon, hatch from an egg, or come out of hibernation. God raised him from death. Not the dead of winter. DEATH. So all the comparisons between Jesus and butterflies or Jesus and daffodils are misleading. The life that springs forth after winter is natural. The resurrection is wholly unnatural. It is the creative work of God to overcome death with new life.
And those of us who participate in the reality and promise of Christ’s resurrection find life everywhere, even in the dead of winter. We find life and love in the midst of our struggles. We find life and hope even in places that others dismiss as God-forsaken. We find evidence of God’s new order breaking in all around us. There is no place and no situation where the risen Christ is not present.
So we are never waiting for life to return. Life does not go away for a season. We don’t depend on ceremonies and rituals to bring it back. Always and everywhere, we see it, we know it, and we feel it. Every season is filled with God’s gift of abundant and eternal life.
©2017 by J. Mark Lawson