These past few months, I became more aware than ever how winter carries with it the odor of death. Leaves dry up and fall, leaving the trees empty. Grass turns brown and sharp. When I walk in the woods behind my house, I can hear the dead, crumbling leaves sink into the sludge and half-frozen mud underneath them. Darkness creeps over into the hours of light. And it is cold, the kind that becomes exhausting. Even the piling on of layers and heavy jackets doesn’t stop the bitter chill from settling deep in my bones. No wonder this season is used as a metaphor for the dry, cold and dark times in our walk through life and with God.
But this past weekend, I also realized something else: That odor of death is deceiving.
On Saturday and Sunday, the temperatures rose and settled into the 70s in these parts. As I stood outside Saturday night, there was a touch of warmth in the hovering coolness. I knew it was temporary, that winter was not done, that the cold would come back. But suddenly I also knew something else. In that moment, inside those bare branches I could see the leaves yet to come. In the sludged earth, I knew the grass was in the making. The trees and ground were not barren and dead. Life was inexorably settled there, waiting to burst forth. Suddenly, to my very core, I knew I would walk beneath a canapy of oak leaves again and feel the grass between my toes. It is inevitable. It is a given. And I knew it in my heart, not just my head.
And, standing there, it dawned on me that this helps me understand how it is for us in this part of the Story, in the here-and-now, the already-but-not-yet. In the beginning, we walked openly in the wide-open spaces of God’s holy Love, freely in his glory, right-ness, goodness and grace. Then we tore ourselves from him. Our hearts tore and split, and sin and death greedily scuttled through the wounds and plundered our very core. The world lived under their odor and stench. But they would not win. With a honed and ferocious will to redeem, restore and return us, God set about to bring Life forth once more. And, finally in Jesus, his right-ness, goodness, just-ness, grace, mercy, fury—all fused together in a holy, insuperable power that is Love—swallowed death in an explosion of Life that still rushes through to eternity. That Life is here-and-now and will be in-full in the yet-to-come. It is abundant. It is breath-taking. It is amazing Love and Goodness.
And the moments that I know this in my heart are growing. But there are still far too many moments when I do not. Darkness, while in the throes of its own death, still reeks and its stench still penetrates deep. Like winter, it deceives me. It hides from me the presence of Life already-but-not-yet. But the truth is that Life is settled in the marrow of my bones. It bursts forth in me as spring from winter, as leaves from bare branches, blades of grass from half-frozen mud.
Oh, Lord, let your truth be my experience.