After winter, spring… After despair, hope: An Easter Devotional

Tulip tip in springtime
An early sign of spring.

I’ve just come in from a walk around our office’s neighborhood.  Even though winter is technically over, the landscape is brown and dead.  There are no leaves on the trees.  There are no leaves on the bushes.  Flower beds are empty, some still covered with winter mulch.  If you dropped in from, say, Florida, your reaction might well be, “Why do you guys live in a place like this?  It feels so… dead!”

But it isn’t winter any more.  The air is warm.  Those bare branches are teeming with birds whose songs seem even louder in the stark, brown landscape.  And if you know where to look, you can see buds on trees and bushes getting ready to explode with new green leaves, and pointed green sprouts in otherwise dead flower beds.  It isn’t quite spring, but it isn’t winter any more – and we, having lived through another long, cold Wisconsin winter, breathe deep and rejoice.

And this is why I am glad that we celebrate Easter in the springtime.  What is going on in creation around us, especially in these northern latitudes, reflects what happened in the events of the first Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Friday and Saturday were a winter of despair for the disciples.  What could be worse than the public execution of the One you had given your life to? Sunday was a springtime of hope and joy and life so miraculous that even those who saw it didn’t believe it, couldn’t believe it.

When spring comes spectacularly, it's sometimes hard to believe!
When spring comes spectacularly, it’s sometimes hard to believe!

But here we are, twenty centuries on.  The headlines are full of wars and rumor of wars. Children still go to bed hungry and abused.  The world has grown wealthy while stripping God’s glorious creation of its own wealth and beauty.  And those who know how to read the ‘signs of the times’, whether in politics or science, see little hope for their children or grandchildren as they peer into a cloudy future.  “Tell me, Ed:  Where do you see hope?”,  I’ve been asked at least three times in the last month.  Those who know most about today’s environmental crisis seem to feel that there is no hope.  They see winter.  They don’t see spring.

But Jesus’ resurrection is about spring.  It’s about hope.  N.T. Wright says it well  “Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present.”[i]  We who know the Risen Savior and who celebrate the reality of the resurrection this weekend are like people who can look at a dull, gray Wisconsin landscape and know that the warm breeze on our faces means spring is here – even when it doesn’t look like it.

So how do we respond?  We get ready for spring.  My wife is going to have me out in her flower beds this weekend – removing mulch, looking for signs of life in the soil, getting ready for spring.  Our work won’t make spring come more quickly, but the soil and the plants and even the birds will be happy for the work we will be doing to get ready. And our work will help us to discover more and more signs of spring.  This is how we see our ministry work at Care of Creation.  Even as every new scientific report shows more winter ahead (California is out of water; Antarctica is melting; monarch butterflies are disappearing and on and on), we move ahead knowing that God will bring spring and real hope in his time.

Another line from N.T. Wright has been helpful for me:
…What you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are— strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself— accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures… all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.[ii]

That is what Easter means for us.  And we trust that this real hope finds its way into your heart and ministry as well.

Sequoias and sun