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Back when the house was new and oaks were twigs, some kindly soul planted daffodils to mark the margin of my yard. But 50 years of blackberry canes and luxuriant poison ivy vines have largely hidden their good deed—except in March, when winter’s grip is finally loosed, and hope returns with every warbler.
I’m always much surprised by daffodils—the greening shoots, the swelling buds—for I have come to assume the lasting grip of sleet and snow and frigid tem- peratures. But there they are—so green, so vibrant yellow, so unmistakable among the last of last year’s fallen leaves.
And I remind myself each March that slow warmth always wins the day, despite the Sturm und Drang of what seems endless winter.
It is a memory I much need when I survey the winter of my church. From where I sit, I watch the ice accumulating on the branches as the love of many grows cold (Matt. 24:12). The power lines are often down; and Spiritless, we wait for light—and kindness—to return. The howl of biting , windblown rhetoric arrives in each day’s inbox. Vilify, condemn, attack—the arsenal of icicles is launched across the little continents on which we camp.
And God’s good people get discouraged, sinking into grim survival mode, turning back from mission and from ministry for
fear they might be targeted themselves. A dull, persistent fatalism that “awfulizes” everything hangs like a freezing fog. “I’ll go to church,” we finally say, but then sink back upon the couch to watch the worship on our screens. “It may not yet be safe out there,” we add, even when the COVID rates are dropping everywhere. “I’ll wait till this is over.”
Too many are not coming back, not because of masks or mandates, but because they sense that the winter of our dis- content is not yet done, is not yet past. Each congregation’s foyer has its partisans who bring the virus of their politics or personal theology into what should be a place of safety and of sanctuary. And when what’s preached is not good news, when nagging and finger-wagging become the stuff of sermons, the impulse to return gets chilled.
But, trust me, slow warmth will yet win the day, despite the recent weather. “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower”* is working every- where, persistently, and even when we fail to notice. The Spirit never leaves the church alone or in the cold. Each time the Word is opened faithfully; each time the gospel is proclaimed; every moment when we lay aside our cold conspiracies to offer kindness and support, the kingdom gains; the kingdom grows. New life appears—all green, all vibrant—through the miracle of grace. And baptistries get filled with water and with warmth. Foyers flood with hugs and openheartedness. The Spir- it’s passion blossoms in the church, and we prepare for new and better Pentecosts.
I can see the spring arriving in my yard. And with the second sight of faith, I see the spring arriving for my church. The day is not far distant when the partisans will lose their audience, when those who would divide Christ’s body will melt into deserved obscurity. There will be confessions, even tears, as Jesus’ warmth dissolves the ice we’ve grown familiar with. Feet will be washed; humility will sprout; and all our wintry inwardness will yet surrender to a greening, growing fellowship of witness and of worship.
This is no fantasy, no Pollyanna moment. Remind yourself of Peter’s springtime sermon:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
Bring that day.
*The first line of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ well-known poem.