Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Making All Things New

Having grown up in the midwest I miss the sunny, warm days that gradually bring to blossom the fruit tress, tulips, and daffodils day by day. I miss the months of new birth that dispel the cold winter winds with a gentle breeze and calmly coax the tiny buds to open. I miss the flowering trees that paint the landscape for weeks (not days) on end and the fresh smell of new grass wafting through the air.

New England springs are quite different. They come suddenly and often without warning. Even before the cold winds leave for the season, there is a burst of color. Flowers explode open and then quickly fall away to make room for the green that replaces it on all the branches. The breeze is not gentle or warm, like in the southlands, but it does the trick, and in one seeming rush of new life, the landscape changes from brown to green in an instant. Some years you can miss it altogether if you are not paying attention.

But not this year. It seems this year New England has spring of its own...of sorts. For the past few weeks our days have vacillated between quenching rains and sunny days, creating the perfect conditions for a gradual spring. True, some trees could just not help themselves and have burst open in flower only to fall empty waiting for the green. But not so, with others. Each day as I walk the dogs through our neighborhood it seems the green becomes ever so slightly more intense, more pervasive. I have become entranced with this gradual greening of the land. I look for it everywhere. Each morning I check the progress of our seedling grass and watch with wonder for the first sprouts of our potted herbs. I watch as if in slow motion as the barren beds of our garden come to life with a brilliant kaleidoscopic green that washes over the dull brown of winter mud. The changes come slowly, almost imperceptibly, yet the pace is steady and sure.

I think that this gradual greening is like what our Scriptures describe as "making all things new." In the lectionary reading from Revelations this week God calls out, "See, I am making all things new!" The vision comes in the midst of bringing forth the new creation. Images of a new heaven and new earth adorned as if for a great celebration usher in a fantastical utopia where God dwells among the people, where death and mourning, crying and pain are no more. A literal reading of this text would lead us to believe this making all things new happens in an instant, as if the heavens open and God descended from clouds on high. I suppose this is where some in our Christian community derive the vision of the rapture in which Christ suddenly descends upon the earth to judge the quick and the dead.

Yet, Revelations was not written as literal prophecy. As apocalyptic literature, the authors of Revelation intended it as metaphor. The text becomes richer, more meaningful when we shed the shackles of literalism and begin to read with eyes of faith through the deep layers of meaning and metaphor.

I wonder if this divine "making all things new" is not so much like the sudden rush of a typical New England spring, but rather like the gradual greening of spring that happens slowly, almost imperceptibly, yet with a steady and sure pace. While we all yearn for the day when death and mourning will be no more, we understand that it does not come all at once, but rather bubbles up into our lives over time; sometimes so gently that we do not even sense the change occurring within ourselves until one day we find ourselves in a different place. I suppose it is much like the process of grieving: The pain which we imagine will never end, slowly, gently releases us and we awake one day to find ourselves a little closer to being whole again.

See, God is making all things new...just in time. Like the gradual greening that is happening now, so also is the Divine working among us to coax our spirits to blossom and bring the bud of peace and justice to flower in the world.

“What greater praise can I give you than to call you green? Green, rooted in light, shining like the sun that pours riches on the wheeling earth; incomprehensible green, divinely mysterious green, comforting arms of divine green protecting us in their powerful circle. And yet, you are more than even the noblest green, for you glow red as breaking dawn, you shine white as the incandescent sun. Splendid One, none of our physical senses can explain or comprehend you.”

Hildegarde of Bingen


Methodist Geek said...

Hello, I'm a first-year M-div student at MTSO, and a licensed local pastor in the North-Texas Conference serving on location in the East Ohio conference. I'm also a staunch supporter of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and it's work in opening all the church to all God's people.

As a Texan transplanted in Ohio, I can say that I think Ohio springs and summers are the one of the two things that make me put up with Ohio winters (saner politics is the other thing). I love the way the grass turns green overnight, the gentle rains, the storms, the color of the flowers, everything is so much more vibrant then in Texas, there's no oppressive heat, no endless drought. I love living in Ohio and I will be sorry to leave it.

Ps. Do you have any words of grace for an affirming pastor in a traditionalist congregation?

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

Methodist Geek,

I agree Ohio springtimes are the best (I'm originally from Cincinnati!).

Even in traditionalist congregations God makes room for the spirit of love and inclusion to work. If you witness to God's radical inclusivity through your life and ministry, others will be drawn to it.

The stirrings of the Spirit are everywhere, bubbling up even through the cracks of staunch tradition and conservative ideology.

Blessings in your ministry!