The flowers stay out year round here. The ocean is beautiful and changing day by day, now blue, now gray. The temperature is warm if the sun is out, hot if no wind, cold if no sun. Cold for us, that is. Not often really cold in the daytime. Santa Barbara, CA.
But I remember the year we moved from CA to New Haven, CT and how surprised and sad I was when everything died for the winter. I knew intellectually about hibernation and the cycle of seasons, but I hadn’t experienced it in so long. Experiencial knowing, it hit my heart hard. It wasn’t even a winter with much snow to lighten my heart.
But then spring came. Easter, and I got the connection.
Some trees flowered, some put forth lime green leaves, tiny ones that would later grow larger and darken. For all the time we lived in New England I loved the budding trees. Everyone loved every single daffodil or tulip, crocus, snowdrops. They came just in time to decorate the church for Easter Sunday.
Winter is the hard time. Cold, sometimes lonely, not without flashes of fun (snowman making, sledding), not without work to be done. It’s the time to persevere.
So when spring comes.
A whole winter is in Holy Saturday.
We wait, unsure of how to fill the day.
Good Friday was clear: remember Jesus dying on the cross. Jesus, who died for you and me, for the sins of the whole world. So that death would not have the final say anymore, forever. So that anyone who believes on him would not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16b)
Holy Saturday, it’s for mourning and for waiting. Perseverance.
Easter Vigil, it was our favorite service of the year. Our first year there, in cold New Haven, we stumbled upon a service, thought we’d go. Twenty, maybe thirty people gathered outside, 8:00 at night, in the rose garden which had no roses yet, a fire in a Weber grill, from which the Pascal candle was lit, and then we all had lit candles and a procession singing, “Jesus Christ is the light of the world!”
We came to the chapel, filed in and blew out our candles, for there on the altar were hundreds of tea lights, burning. In the chapel the choir sang between readings.
Parting of the Red Sea
A New Heart
And as they were read a strange thing happened in me. One after another, the supernatural working of God in history strengthened my heart, my faith.
But the night wasn’t over.
We processed with lit candles again, through the Sunday school wing to the foyer of the church (Narthex) where the baptismal font was waiting. We sang “Wade in the Water, Children;” a negro spiritual for (mostly) Swedish Lutherans. An adopted boy was brought forward for baptism.
“God’s gonna trouble the water,” goes the song, and as Daniel was baptized we also all around him remembered and were thankful for our baptism. Daniel, adopted from a small country in Asia (I forget which) and brought into this community of faith, by adoption, by baptism (my apologies if this troubles you) to be loved by the community and brought up in the faith we share as the Body of Christ.
The service wasn’t over yet: Pastor stood by the doors to the sanctuary and called out “Christ is Risen!” and we all answered, “He is Risen, Indeed. Alleluia!”
The lights came on in the sanctuary and we all processed in, smelling the powerful smell of lillies, taking our places near the front of the sanctuary in highhearted joy. Then a whole service began, the first service of Easter. It should have been midnight; it wasn’t quite. It didn’t feel long, because we stood to sing Easter hymns, we heard the resurrection story, we listened to a short meditation on it, and we gathered around the altar, all of us together. During communion our music minister led us in an acapella round of Donna Nobis Pacem.
It was the best service of the year. After that, all creation came to life again.
Ann wrote about the best meal of the year, Passover.
It was here in Santa Barbara, studying Hebrew a bit the year we learned ancient history, that I found my heart opening to the celebration of Biblical Feasts. Now, this coming week, this year, I look for ways that our family can celebrate Passover, include others, and enjoy Holy Week with services at church.
The trees around here are mostly holly-oak, which means they don’t lose their leaves. Lemon trees bear fruit all year. But here and there is a deciduous tree, and I look to see if they are budding. Signs of spring, of God’s creation order for new life do abound when I look for them.
They are blooming in my heart as well when I seek his face, read his word, sing his praises.
All thanks and praise to God!