Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Unnatural Acts

John Beddingfield
Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt bad for all the tourists who have come to town hoping for cherry blossoms, but I’ve also enjoyed the slow-coming spring and have learned something especially from the cold, gray days of Lent. As we brushed away snow on Monday of Holy Week, it occurred to me that because I’ve spent my life on the Mid-Atlantic East Coast, at some level I tend to associate Easter with springtime. Easter Sunday seems as natural as the daffodils, hyacinths, and forsythia. In many churches, at the end of the Maundy Thursday liturgy, the Blessed Sacrament is processed to a chapel. Often, this chapel is garden-like, representing the Garden of Gethsemane where the disciples dozed while Jesus prayed and foreshadowing the garden of the tomb. At the Easter Vigil, when the lights finally come on and the Resurrection proclaimed, there are lilies and flowers all over the place. The message can be read as “The Lord is risen,” but also, “spring has come.” 

This idea of nature taking its course in the Resurrection can be reinforced for me by images from scripture such as when Jesus says “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Jesus uses this image to talk about sacrifice and self-offering, but he is not giving a biology lesson. A grain of wheat, in fact, does not die in order to bear fruit. It does what it is supposed to do as a grain, as a seed. It follows the natural course of things while the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is altogether different.

When Jesus is raised from the dead, God is doing something completely new. The Resurrection is unexpected, previously unknown, and most unnatural. This is what the snow has helped me see this Easter: that God interrupts the normal course of things in order to bring new life. Different from winter into the spring, different from aging and maturing naturally, different from any other obvious progression—God interrupts the normal and predictable, and that’s what makes the miracle. 

This holy interruption of the predictable gives me hope and helps me move through life empowered by the Resurrection. When I see someone who is going down a road of destruction, seemingly trapped in addiction, the Resurrection reminds me that God can interrupt and make a miracle. When I pray for someone who is sick or facing a chronic condition, the Resurrection reminds me of the possibility of healing and wholeness, of God’s bringing unexpected life from death. When I begin to despair at the “normal course of things” in politics, economics, or even in my own behavior and habits, I stop myself and remember the Resurrection. God can interrupt.

While I’m enjoying the (finally!) opening cherry blossoms and the warmer days, I’m also giving thanks for the unseasonableness of God and the most unnatural act of Resurrection.

John Beddingfield is the rector at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. Share your comments with the diocesan community on Facebook.