People like the pretty flowers. Their supple textures and brilliant colors. The way a flower mysteriously rests atop an elastic stem, stretching after the noonday sun. The unfolding of petals, the mathematical precision. Is it the golden ratio or Fibonacci sequence? The barely noticeable grooves and scanty channels glistening through the diamond sparkle of dewdrops or a spring drizzle. It is easy to see why people enjoy spring.
Now here I could segue into one of my favorite passages, which I take as a commandment as important as any other, Consider the lilies. And I could point out to you that you are as beautiful as a lily, even more so. But it is Lent, the season of morose reflection and self-denial. Easter cannot be seen before the cross; there’s an event on the horizon that our eyes cannot see past. And even though the tulips are bursting with radiance, this is still Lent, the grim season of foreboding and repentance, the season which started with ash. A time to weep, said the Teacher. Lent started with this passage, Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! And we finish here: They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths…Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb…they laid Jesus there.
My blog, my writing, even I would be more popular and well received if I just wrote happy, optimistic messages. Our scriptures and liturgical seasons, though, are a perfect balance, reflecting the range of all human emotions. But, nevertheless, we are programed to be happy, from the baby mobiles of smiling creatures hanging above our cribs to the investment commercials that insist a happy life, a good family life, is one backyard pool away to the funeral that is no longer a time to mourn the passing of a loved one but a “celebration of life.”
Thank God the bible never tells us to “turn that frown upside down.” Consider the lilies, but also consider the very next verse: God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven.
So what do we do with the beauty of spring this side of the cross? I once had a professor in divinity school who was amazed at the number of people going to the gym to exercise. He was convinced that everyone pumping iron and running miles but going nowhere was chasing after some sort of immortality. Their bodies were young and fresh, full of life, the paragon of human beauty. He said he wanted to go to that gym, plug in a microphone, and say, “Look, I know you enjoy working out, but I just want you to know that you’re going to die anyway.”
Maybe here, in the last three weeks of Lent, as we are enamored by blooms of spring, we should remember Isaiah. All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
We cannot enjoy the joy of the resurrection if we do not embrace the offensive beauty of the cross. We cannot know the euphoria and awe of the empty tomb, if we do not also know the existential assuredness that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
I went to the garden a little over a week ago. When I returned to the garden yesterday, the tulips that were in full bloom were already dropping petals. How short lived we all are.
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