For the last couple of days, the weather around our house here in Colorado has been gorgeous; a welcome relief from the cold Rocky Mountain winter. This sunshine and warmth, along with the recent arrival of daylight savings time have combined to make me deliriously happy this week. I awoke this morning however, hoping for a balmy morning run, to find the temperature quite chilly and the familiar feeling of rain and snow in the air. This reality (that it’s really only early April, and not mid-May as the recent weather had suggested) reminded me of an important truth this time of year. Nature itself was reminding me that despite the feeling of summer that had permeated yesterday, summer has not yet arrived. Not coincidentally, I needed a gentle nudge from mother nature to remind me likewise, that Easter had not yet arrived, and that we were, in fact, still dwelling in the relative darkness of lent.
There is a great deal of wisdom in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Vigen Guroian, a Armenian Orthodox theologian (and gardener–not coincidentally) muses about the apt chronological construction of the liturgical calendar. He says,
I have begun to understand the wisdom in the Armenian Church’s stubborn persistence in celebrating Jesus’ birth and baptism together on the sixth of January, as was the ancient practice. Jesus’ birth shines light into this darkling world and commences the death of Death itself. His baptism reveals this world’s true Maker and Ruler and the path of repentance, self-renunciation and sacrificial love that each of us must travel to inherit eternal life. In the same manner, by our personal baptism we not only receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and adoption as sons and daughters of God; we also recapitulate Jesus’ crucifixion, death burial and resurrection. (The Fragrance of God)
Likewise, St. Gregory of Nyssa reminds us that,
the Sun of Justice rose in this cruel winter, the spring came, the south wind dispelled that chill, and together with the rising of the sun’s rays warmed everything that lay in our path. Thus mankind, that had been chilled into stone, might become warm again through the Spirit, and receiving heat from the rays of the Word, might become again as water leaping up into eternal life. (From Glory to Glory)
Our disconnectedness from the created world confuses not only our senses but also our spiritual sensibilities. Could it be the Church understood that the rhythms God built into the earth actually serve as reminders of Him; signposts directing and constantly calling us back to Him? If the Fathers of the Church and the ancient rabbis were correct, then God really wrote two books of Scripture. The first, they claimed, was the book of creation itself; a book which actually teaches us how to better read the second book, that of the written Scriptures. It’s no wonder then, that the Bible constantly evokes natural metaphors (“the just man is like a tree planted by water…” Psalm 1, “Consider the lilies of the field” Matthew 6:28, etc.).
So I’m grateful. As much as I’d like to go out for a long bike ride, or take my kayak out on the river today, I can’t. The time will come, but it’s not yet. We know indeed that just as surely as the leaves will return to the trees, the crocuses bloom with colorful buds, and the rivers run full again in late spring, that the same Christ who died on a cross on Good Friday, like a tree shedding its leaves and heading for its yearly death, will return renewed and glorious on Easter morning. Really, it seems that the brilliance of God’s created world is that everyone who has seen a tree which appears to die in the fall and knows that come spring, that tree will be resurrected to life once again, has been prepared for the mystery of the cross. Coincidence? I think not. As Jesus said, foreshadowing his own Eucharistic sacrifice, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a grain of wheat.”