Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Preview in the Snow Drifts

“Look at those foolish robins.” I muttered, looking out the window at a patch of bare ground surrounded by snowdrifts, “Talk about jumping the gun!  Can’t they see they’re too early?”

On that gray and windy morning in March one tiny bare patch attracted a flock of ten robins, which crowded together and busied themselves inspecting the hard ground for whatever food there might be.

I was thoroughly immersed in the grumpiness and impatience so many of us felt earlier this year as one major storm after another swept across the continent leaving misery in its wake.  The evidence of my eyes was that spring was not coming.  We’d slipped into a weather trough, and New England was doomed to endless winter.  Of course, I was wrong, but that’s the sort of thing that happens to the mind when dark raw days proliferate for weeks on end and weather forecasters shake their heads in bewilderment as they report the next approaching storm.

Thing is, though, the birds were right.  Guided by an internal clock keyed to the position of the sun, the length of days, and who knows what else, their migrations were not subject to human emotions and moods.  As the now-clear fields warm, and the last of the woods-shaded snow melts, the birds are where they need to be to play their part in the seasonal rhythms.  On the day when I grumbled at them, their presence was a sign, more powerful than snow, that the world’s morning was under way.

Then it hit me: what a great metaphor for resurrection, and the calling we have as the church!  Please note, I am saying that the arrival of the birds is a metaphor for resurrection; not that resurrection is a metaphor for new life bubbling up in the spring.

The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright tells us that in Christ’s resurrection God’s future for all humanity comes racing forward to meet us.  Though the world is unready, God isn’t waiting.  The New Creation has already begun, and while it will take the rest of history to complete it, the final outcome is now settled.

Still, if we look at the world about us with eyes attuned only to the obvious, we may conclude that things only get worse, that the world’s winter will go on forever, rather like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia in the days when it was always winter, but never Christmas.  It was in the midst of that winter that Aslan, the Great Lion, Son of the Emperor Beyond the Sea arrived to begin setting things right.

So in our world the snows of sin and death are piled high and deep, and though the Sun of Righteousness has risen with healing in his wings, it’s going to take a long while before spring comes in its fullness.  Our faith tells us that in the death and resurrection of Christ, the world is fundamentally changed and the future ultimately secured. 

We, then, are called to faithful living in the world as we now find it.  Jesus often and emphatically cautioned the disciples, and still cautions us, not to try to second-guess the full arrival of the Kingdom.  The history of the church, up to and including our own era, contains abundant tragi-comic examples of what happens when Christians try to be weather forecasters.  By Christ’s own words, predicting the full arrival of the Kingdom is impossible, so we are not to try.

Rather, he urged us to be confident that the times and seasons are in God’s hands, to live as faithfully as we can in the lifetime we’re given, to serve others as steadily as we’re able, to seek justice without self-righteousness, to extend mercy wherever possible and to walk humbly with God.

We live in the time-between-the-times, when it is our calling and privilege to witness to the victory God has won in Christ.  In seeking to live the new life which Jesus makes possible, we become signs of the coming Kingdom: robins in the snow, forerunners of the Springtime that will ultimately embrace the whole world.

Howard MacMullen
© April 2013

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