Over the next few weeks and months things will only get worse, the final leaves will fall, rain may give way to snow and the dark night will get even longer.
In truth, and despite my moaning, I am glad I live somewhere which offers the experience of such dramatic seasons. While rain and wind aren’t my best friend I appreciate the change they bring.
Of course it is not like this every where, there are places in which there are very few seasons. Many folks I know from the Carribean talk of their shock when arriving in the UK for the first time and without a coat in their possession!!
I recently heard an article on Radio 4’s Gardeners Question Time in which a scientist described their desire to alter the genetic code of plants to prevent any visible signs of seasonal decay. Roses would simply flower repeatedly and endlessly. Our dis-ease with death is of course something many of us know all too well. In recent weeks much of my time has been spent with a wonderful gentleman in the last days of his life. As Robert slipped into glory those around him invariably asked ‘why’.
We have become a society so proficient in life, so idolatrous of youthfulness that we are almost incapable of death and that is a problem, or at least it is a problem for the people called church.
In the ancient writings of the Jewish tradition their authors speak of there being a time for all things including a time to die. The church does not serve one who refused death or escaped death but one who submitted himself to death. This matters because often times in church we have become so fearful of death that we will keep things alive at all costs, thousands of pounds are thrown at churches in the hope that there function as something other than a church might some how enable their survival anything but death.
The amazing truth of scripture is however that death is not the end but rather death paths the way for resurrection. Recall that in the resurrection of Christ something had fundamentally changed, his friends did not recognise him, he walked through closed doors and yet his resurrection was undoubtedly physical; he eat and the last time I checked eating was a pretty physical act. The point the writers of the gospel want us to grasp is not that resurrection did not happen but that in resurrection death gives way to an abundance of new and other wise indescribable, inconceivable life.
One day this winter will pass and our gardens will discover a whole new life. We will come to see that the winter was not a strange inconvenience it was a place in which somethings came to an end in order that something as yet unknown might begin. The real hope occurs not in the new buds of spring but in the dying of winter, at least if in that dying there is the possibility of new life. That is not always so, sometimes we get stuck in dying. I know churches and individuals stuck in that missery, it is what C.S. Lewis described as always winter but never Christmas. We of course are Christmas people.
In other places we have become proficient in describing death as an inevitable end. That is not biblical and it is rarely true. Methodists often talk of the closure of Birmingham Central Hall as an inevitable end, excused by all kinds of other social and economic phenomena, what they fail to tell you is that at exactly the same time we Methodists were closing churches, some of the biggest churches in the country were growing on our doorsteps. The life of God, the resurrection hope of Christ can not be contained.
My guess is that for many of us there are things we need to allow to die if we are ever to experience the healing of new life, the hurt of a broken relationship, the resentment of others, our lack of self worth, our constant feeling of inadequacy these things must die if we are ever to know the wonder of reconciliation and the power of resurrection. Death must not define us.
In his letter to the church in Philippi an early Christian missionary named Paul says to his friends that ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain’. Paul isn’t looking for an easy way out of what has become a difficult place. No, he’s simply declaring, less of me, more of God, I am alive in Christ only when I die to self. The only life Paul is interested in is the one that comes from following Christ, everything else must die.
When I travel around different churches I hear some incredible stories, stories of new life and transformation, stories of churches growing and lives being changed; at the heart of all of those stories are a bunch of people wiling to recognise that if God is to do God’s thing then our thing must end. That is not complicated but it is utterly remarkable.
May we learn to allow death, to let go of our securities and to allow God to do a whole new thing in us, even us.
Now, back to the garden!