It was spring break at Yale Divinity School, so it was spring, right? Spring in Southern California, our home state, was when the wild flowers bloomed and when it was pleasantly warm but not hot. That’s what New England would be like too, right? Or so we thought, at least. With that soon-to-be-dashed- hope in tow, we headed out to explore “spring” in the northern New England states.
The first thing we discovered was that spring in Maine and New Hampshire looked a lot like winter in Connecticut. Instead of wildflowers and budding trees, we saw lots of snow on the ground. And not scenic, postcard snow either, but dirty, icy snow that had been sitting in place for awhile. And, there were no leaves to be found.
The second thing we learned about spring in northern New England was that spring was no warmer than winter. Or not much, at least. As we drove through Maine, New Hampshire and then Vermont, we were very grateful for our old VW’s heater, which seemed to provide the only warmth to be found.
It didn’t feel like spring and it didn’t even look like spring, at least to our naïve Southern California eyes. But, the important thing was, it really was spring. The Spring Equinox had happened. The season was right where it was supposed to be. Despite our perceptions, everything was as it should be. It was spring.
We discovered that we didn’t need a change of seasons; we needed a change of expectations.
As I write, it is again spring in New Hampshire. Despite the occasional warm day like yesterday, it’s chilly if not cold, and the ground is still covered with snow, except for the few patches of mud where the snow has melted. Where we live, the snow drops and crocuses have not yet made their appearance. The eighteen inches of snow from last weekend’s storm has not yet made its disappearance.
But–and this is the point–we know it’s spring, even though it may not conform to our sunny expectations of daffodils and hyacinths blossoming in the yard. The weather may still be gloomy chilly, and rainy, and our attitude towards life may be the same, but it’s spring. We believe it. There’s evidences that demonstrate it, like the occasional mud patches peering up through the snow, signs that winter is losing its grip.
If you think about it, spring is the only season of the year worthy of Easter. Easter, like spring, is a state of affairs we often miss because we’re looking at the wrong things. In our spring trip to northern New England forty years ago, Jill and I only saw winter. We saw the snow and felt the cold. We didn’t notice where the mud broke through the snow, nor that it was less chilly than it had been a few weeks before. All we saw were the signs of winter; we missed the signs of spring. Similarly, many look at life after Easter and see only cold, dirty snow, leafless trees, and discouraging news headlines. They see only the life of this world, ever revolving through its seasonal cycles, heading nowhere. Everything continues on has it always has. Except that it hasn’t.
We know that spring is here when the Spring Equinox happens. No matter how cold it is, no matter how much snow is on the ground or falling from the sky, and no matter how much it doesn’t look like spring, when it’s the Spring Equinox, it’s spring. Period. Winter is gone and spring is here.
The resurrection of Jesus is the spiritual equivalent of the Spring Equinox. Easter is our yearly spring reminder that no matter how much it looks as if life goes on as it always has, something new has happened that has changed everything. We may feel tired and discouraged, but that doesn’t change the fact that Christ has risen. We may feel death’s presence, but that doesn’t change the fact that Christ has risen. We may feel weak and inadequate, but that doesn’t change the fact that Christ has risen.
We often–too often– live by how we feel. If we’re feeling good, then life is good and filled with hope, at least for as long as the good mood lasts. Often, we don’t feel so good. We see the snow, cold and mud of a New England spring, and it feels like we’re still living in winter. We see the sorrow, misery and brutality of our world, and it feels like God hasn’t been near this planet since He created it. The Good News is–the Gospel is–we don’t need to live by what we feel like. The Spring Equinox tells us its spring. Easter reminds us that Christ is risen.
It may look like winter, but it’s spring. Life may look hard and painful, but Christ is risen. When you know it’s spring, you see the snow on the ground differently. You know it’s days are numbered. When you know Christ is risen, you see life’s pains, frustrations, and injustices in a different perspective. You know their days are numbered. Something bigger and better is afoot.
No matter how hard life might be now, no matter how deep life’s snows, the words of the poet* resonate with the hope of the Gospel for Christians everywhere: “All things proceed to joyful consummation.”
*T.S. Eliot, a major 20th century poet, and a Christian.