Hope Rises

I wonder if it’s a coincidence that Easter and the advent of spring coincide – at least in the northern hemisphere? In a politically correct world it maybe more diplomatic to have it occur in the transition period for both north and south – when it’s neither hot nor cold (won’t add further comment :-)). Be that as it may, everyone loves springtime, full of promises and expectation.

Spring is the time of new shoots finally appearing in the dormant ground, seemingly grey and dead for too long now. The trees also appeared dead to the world until the hints of buds reveal the lie, the sun warms, and the blossoms burst. The birds migrate, as they do where I live, flocking in their thousands to feed off the beaches before heading to Alaska. The Robins’ return and begin their beady-eye hopping across the lawn tugging on the unfortunate worm (perhaps spring is not so great for them). One pair of Robins have just completed their nest under the eves and squawk indignantly whenever we use the front door. First the nest, then the eggs, then the hatching, then the flying away.

The resurrection of Jesus was like the seasons crammed into four days. His betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane – the withering of good fruit rotting and falling, as Judas betrayed and the disciples fled (autumn/fall). The death of winter with the brutal crucifixion and the burying of what was Jesus in the ground beneath cold stone. Hope lost, goodness defeated, purpose twisted into despair and disillusion. Long slow days of grey, second-guessing, weeping, spices and burial clothes, fishing at night catching nothing. We all have those times.

Then at last the hint of buds, the gravestone rolled away, light falling on what was dead, the corpse, the focus of grief, gone. For some it’s quick, for others a slow awakening. You can feel it approaching like you can hear a train on the tracks before it comes into view. Hope rises with the signs of buds and birds. Because we know that they announce the inevitable crescendo of full blown summer, warmth and sun, everything in full bloom. Jesus appearing to his disciples, no sign of death save for a few scars – lest we forget.

When Jesus lived on earth he initiated at least three resurrections that we are aware of. One was when Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, pleaded with him to come and see his daughter who was dying. Jesus was interrupted along the way by another woman who needed help. News arrived that the girl was dead. All despaired. Jesus encouraged them, “Don’t be afraid, just believe and she will be healed.” He arrived at the house, had all the mourners leave the room (the sound of wailing was unhelpful), took her hand, and raised her to life. When I was very young (about five years old) I heard this story and had to recount it at nursery school. I proudly declared that the little girl rose up and made tea for her mother. “Not quite like that,” I was gently corrected.

Another time Jesus was at a town called Nain and encountered a funeral procession. The pall bearers were carrying a widow’s dead son. Jesus stopped them, touched the coffin, and the young boy was brought to life. Unbelievable! No wonder word spread throughout the region and people flocked to him.

Then there was Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. All three were friends of Jesus living outside Jerusalem in Bethany. Lazarus was dead and buried, wrapped in graveclothes, already three days cold in a tomb when Jesus arrived. Again people laughed, were understandably disbelieving, concerned about the stench when he instructed the stone to be rolled away. Jesus called Lazarus by name. Silence. Then shuffling. Then a figure clad in graveclothes appears. Unbelievable. Hope in the midst of death. Life in the desert. Resurrection in winter. God speaking to death and making a difference.

“What about all the sons and daughters, brothers and friends who die too young. Why don’t they get resurrected? Where’s the hope for them, and the comfort and joy for us?” We cry, protest, wrestle to find answers.

Lazarus, the widow at Nain’s son, Jairus’s daughter – they are all signs. Look what God can do, wants to do, will do. Finally, with the death and resurrection of Jesus himself comes the declaration that death is not the end. But it feels that way to me. Look at the seasons, despite everything we on earth break and destroy among ourselves, and in nature – the buds insist on blooming, the birds return, the short dark days lengthen – over time. The oft quoted Ecclesiastes 3 passage: For everything there is a season… a time to live, a time to die, a time to build, a time to tear down, a time to weep, a time to laugh.

Thankfully, in God’s economy, while the seasons are signs, they are not the reality determining when and how he works. His reality is that hope is always present, even when everything appears to be lost and dead. One of the great disciplines and secrets of life is to learn patient expectation. Some things take time. We don’t always have the answers to why; in fact more often than not we seldom have much of a clue. Many despise that space of not knowing. Instead of resting in mystery they make up easy answers and unhelpful mantras as explanations to comfort themselves. Be careful who you listen to.

When we hear about summer in the southern hemisphere we in the north are shivering in snow and winter. We see photos on Facebook and want to rush over to where the sun is shining. And vice versa. That’s possible for some in the physical realm. But for all of us in the emotional and spiritual realm there is no running away, or short-circuiting the coming of fall, the death of winter, the first buds of spring, and the fruitfulness of summer. Different people are experiencing different seasons all around us – at the same time – for all kinds of reasons. Why? Perhaps we will never know. But…

Hope has to be rooted in more than emotions, our human capacity to comprehend (or not), and our subjective circumstances and feeling at any given moment. The resurrection of Jesus is the bedrock for hope. That’s why we hear testimony from people down the ages of their faith, rooted in God, sustaining them in the most horrible of situations. Death has lost its sting, resurrection on either side of death is promised and as assured as the seasons come and go every year.

Though the fig tree does not blossom, And there is no fruit on the vines,

Though the yield of the olive fails, And the fields produce no food,

Though the flock is cut off from the fold, And there are no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will [choose to] rejoice in the Lord; I will [choose to] shout in exultation in the [victorious] God of my salvation!

The Lord God is my strength [my source of courage, my invincible army]; He has made my feet [steady and sure] like hinds’ feet

And makes me walk [forward with spiritual confidence] on my high places [of challenge and responsibility]. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments. (Habakkuk 3:17)

Paul was in a winter season of prison and persecution, facing death in Rome. That was his circumstance, although inwardly he had learned how to live in spring and summer all year round. It was from that inner season of hope he wrote his last letter to his young friend, Timothy.

This is why I suffer as I do. Still, I am not ashamed; for I know Him [and I am personally acquainted with Him] whom I have believed [with absolute trust and confidence in Him and in the truth of His deity], and I am persuaded [beyond any doubt] that He is able to guard that which I have entrusted to Him until that day [when I stand before Him]. (2 Timothy 1:12)

I’m still learning the art of inner spring and summer living, rooted in the hope of the resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps you are as well? 🙂

John Cox

Christian Author

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