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Just a few days ago, I had to mow my lawn because I didn’t want it to reach “nuisance” height.
This evening, I had to cover my flowers because a snow storm is on the horizon.
After a series of beautiful days that had everyone on my street out working in their yards, the crispness of winter is back on the tip of the wind in the panhandle of Nebraska. As I look around at the landscape seasoned with the yellows of daffodils and the deep purples of grape hyacinths, it is hard for me to picture the snow that is soon to come. And yet, I know this is the rhythm of spring.
Spring is an in-between season marked by the spontaneous eruption of plants from under the ground and the emerging of new leaves on the trees. It is also a season known for its instability and unpredictability. T.S. Eliot captures this in these famous lines from The Waste Land,
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Spring is both a time when new life peers through the cracks and when the chill of death is still close at hand.
The season of Eastertide (the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost) is like the spring season of the church year. During this season we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the defeat of sin and death, and the promise of new life that is to come for us. Yet, it is also during this season that we encounter the disciples hiding behind closed doors because their Lord is gone and they are afraid (John 20). Resurrection-life and fear-of-death were locked hand-in-hand as the disciples questioned what life would be like for them without Jesus walking by their sides.
The disciples were too afraid to engage an uncertain world. They hid themselves away from it. They locked the doors and stayed out of sight.
Jesus did not let the locked doors and fearful hearts prevent him from standing among them and offering the one thing they needed: peace. The disciples (with Thomas absent from the gathering) received the breath of peace from Jesus. His gift of peace allowed them to see what was real in the world – “We have seen the Lord.”
When Thomas heard of what the others had experienced, he refused to believe until he could experience it for himself. Of course Thomas’ unwillingness to believe earned him the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” But the others had also been unwilling to believe. They had been unwilling to believe the testimony of the women who first experienced resurrection joy. They had refused to believe until Jesus stood among them. Thomas’ only fault was that he had not been present with the others when Jesus first appeared.
Sometimes I wonder if Thomas was not present in that locked room because he was the only one unwilling to let fear immobilize him. Maybe he had been sent to gather supplies when the other disciples were too afraid to be seen. Maybe he was out and about, doing whatever needed to be done, when the other disciples were behind locked doors. Maybe Jesus didn’t first appear to Thomas because Thomas didn’t need the push to unlock the door and live his life.
William Cowper once wrote, “But it is a sort of April-weather life that we lead in this world. A little sunshine is generally the prelude to a storm.” We rejoice and we grieve. We celebrate and we mourn. We see signs of life, and weep because death is still here. In the seasons of spring and Eastertide, we live in the in-between time, when the resurrection of Jesus is a promise for us and yet the sting of death still lingers too close for comfort.
Spring is a tenuous season, with many seeming false promises and waves of disappointment when the snow returns. Still the inverse of Cowper’s insightful statement is also true. Yes, a little sunshine might lead into a storm. But after the storm lifts, we find the sun shining, the birds singing, and the flowers turning their faces toward the sun.
This resurrection life? It’s real. It is somehow both on the way and already here. All we have to do is step out the door. Those doors might make us feel safe, but all they do is lock us into winter so that we never taste the joy of spring.
May we today find the courage to unlock the doors and go out into the world with the peace of Christ. We will not be guaranteed only sunny days. The grip of winter might threaten to hold tight for just a while longer.
Jesus breathes upon us peace that holds us together when we feel like falling apart. Spring will eventually give way to summer.