Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week and Spring

At our previous home in Akron, OH, we had a wonderful view of a small lake behind our house, with a thick, unmowed patch of land between the lake and our lawn. The wild flowers and bushes disappeared in winter; I saw neighbor kids tramping through there in the snow or crossing on their skis. But in springtime the flowers and bushes returned, and by early summer that section of our property became impenetrable except for my little mowed path. The vegetation grew so thick that it was hard to cast a fishing line properly; my daughter, her friend, and I tried but couldn’t avoid tangling our lines. During our backyard play times, Emily and I also lost many a golf ball in the brush.

In springtime I noticed the return of frogs crocking in the nearby wetlands, and also of killdeer, those pretty birds that make their nests in inappropriate, vulnerable places. At a country church I once served, a killdeer laid its eggs in the gravel parking lot—then, of course, it fussed and ran each time a car pulled into the lot. A thoughtful church member made a sign and put it beside the nest so people would take care not to drive into it.

I've been browsing through my Bible, looking for seasonal texts. The Passover stories are spring stories: at this time of year, observant Jews clean their homes for all traces of hametz in preparation for the Pesach remembrance of God’s salvation of the Israelites from Egypt.

Here is another springtime verse from “sexy” Song of Songs.

The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land
(Song of Songs 2:12).

Our bird feeder in Akron attracted birds like sparrows, cardinals, doves, titmice, and finches.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of our head are all numbered. Fear not; you are you are of more value than many sparrows (Luke 12:6-7).

The verse would lose something if it mentioned starlings or blue jays, species that many people find annoying. Sparrows, in their smallness, seem more illustrative of God’s tender care.

The death and resurrection stories are beautiful springtime stories: the new life of the season and the spiritual new life offered by Jesus. I can never read those stories without also feeling some of the happiness of the warmth and renewal of nature. Around my childhood home (amid the scattered bricks in the backyard left over from the house’s construction, and near the television antenna) daffodils appeared reliably around Easter time. The flowers invited speculation about their survival through the inevitable cold days of March and April. That, too, is analogous to Good Friday, when people speculated pessimistically about the future of Jesus’ legacy, as illustrated by the downcast fellows walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34).

The theological and the geographical got sentimentally mixed up in my mind in another way: the Easter egg hunts that took place in Rogier Park in my hometown. Rogier Park is still a pretty, undulating park on Fillmore St. in Vandalia; we lived just down the street. My very earliest memory of an egg hunt, c. 1960 or 1961, was that the sponsors had used dyed hard-boiled eggs! I could hear cries of "liability" if they did that today. The following year and thereafter, the sponsors used plastic eggs containing chocolate. I never quite outgrew the association of Easter with a shady, happy place where Jesus himself might have paused (Luke 18:15-17)!

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