Dandelions in the Pastures of Heaven
Dandelions in the Pastures of Heaven
The coincidence of Easter with springtime has inspired countless sermons and hymns. I haven't checked the agenda for worship this Sunday, but I wouldn't be surprised if I found myself at 11 AM singing, "Now the Green Blade Riseth." The temptation to link the Resurrection with the Return of Greenery is overpowering.
I could be heard singing a week ago, when someone complained about the rain, "The April showers bring the flowers that bloom in May... it isn't raining rain, you know, it's raining violets." (Nah, you're right, I couldn't manage to mimic the growl in Al Jolson's voice.) You get it: the sunshine after the rain; tears that make smiles brighter; and the cross that leads wondrously to the empty tomb.
But the realist in me jumps ahead to October when the greenery flames in death, to await a rebirth in April, after which comes another October... again... and again... and again. The world, the world of human invention, unfortunately, duplicates the same repetitive pattern.
Last year's Good Friday at the Episcopal Church, one of seven churches visited between Noon and Three, the rector likened the suffering of Jesus to the travails in, among many places, Baghdad. This Good Friday the rector likened the suffering of Jesus to the travails in, among many places, Baghdad. Human agony and human perfidy reappear with seasonal regularity like those dandelions that caught our eye on the lawn of the hospital past which we walked in the procession of the cross from one church to another.
Yes, yes, I know, if you've been given lemons, make lemonade; and if the lawn sprouts dandelions, make wine or, at least, a salad.
The redemptive uses of untoward circumstance is a sound Gospel theme; but, and a very big "but" it is, why doesn't the world more clearly reflect the magnificent revolution of the spirit which, faith claims, overwhelmed the human race with the first Easter dawn?
Agnostics, for proof of the inconsequence of Jesus' cross and empty tomb, point to the same places as the aforesaid Episcopalian rector. Nothing, they suggest, has changed.
Christian responses to this challenge vary. Some expect very little of the world. They are those who are awaiting the "rapture" believing, apparently, and contrary to Jesus, that it is wrong to pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Unless, of course, that prayer is understood as meaning the new heaven and new earth when this one passes away. The nations and all of the human activity in them finally do not matter. What matters is the state of the individual soul and its salvation, a conviction notably at odds with Jesus in Matthew 25 and the parable of the last judgment.
Others, Christian this-world idealists, throw themselves mightily into those causes which want to make the world a better place. They do make me feel guilty at times, because I did not march, I did not protest, I did not write my congressman, and I did not enter the civic fray for the cause of righteousness. One of them, a colleague in local ministry, a long time ago, when the US and Russia were rattling sabers at each other, took me to task because I wouldn't march for world peace with him in front of our congressman's office, claiming that the trouble with me was that I lacked the courage. He just knew that any right-minded Christian pastor would believe as he did: my failure had to be a lack of will. He was not interested one whit in any nuanced explanation I might have had on the issue.
He didn't want to hear that my commitment to the pastoral ministry, throwing myself headlong into its joys and sorrows, left little passion for horizontal crusades. If I would rarely be hesitant to say what I thought on current issues, I never conceived of my role in the pulpit or parish as a prophet. Call me a coward, but don't call me unthinking.
And what I have thought about the seeming worldly inconsequence of the Resurrection leads me to the following conclusion: the differences the cross and empty tomb make on the world's stage are imperceptible... unless one knows what to look for and where.
Let me cite a few of the things I have glimpsed:
1. That a tsunami could unleash an even greater tide of compassion across the world.
2. That the slaughter of innocents in Africa weighs on the conscience of those who rule the nations.
3. That progress is now measured by the treatment accorded women.
4. That those rival institutions which champion the way of Jesus seek to cooperate.
5. That bigotry of any sort is generally considered evil.
6. That peace, not war, is judged a nation's glory.
These signs of Easter are tidal shifts in attitude. Sure, the Taliban, the Jangeweed, our own nation's complicity in war, the scourge of AIDS in Africa and the world's inability to do much about it, etc. But the life that lived and died and rose again in a remote corner of the Roman Empire at the dawn of the common era has presented the world with a new agenda, along with the inner strength to do something eternally good about it.
You don't see Easter's grand consequences? Ah, but we are still in the springtime of the kingdom.