It was mid-February when I first spotted it, outlined against a midsize oak on the front lawn of a neighborhood house. Through the stinging snow that lashed my hooded face I traced the letters on the simple white cross: “He Is Risen!”
“Ouch!” I grumbled to no one in particular as a snowflake landed on my unprotected cornea, and I mentally recited my annual complaint about neighbors who forget to take down the symbols of a recent holiday. “Ten months after Easter, and they still have the ‘He Is Risen’ sign on the front lawn?”
I scanned the eaves to see if Christmas lights still wrapped around the icicles or Halloween witches cavorted across the garage doors. But no, the house and yard were free of symbols of holidays past—except for the out-of-date Easter message.
“Probably some aggressive evangelical folks who want to make certain all their Jewish and Muslim neighbors know just where they stand,” I muttered to myself as I left hasty sneaker prints in the snowy street. With little else to do as I marched off the miles on my daily walk, I filled in my mental picture of a family I had never met: fortyish with two teenage kids, I thought; a bit too cheerful; the kind of people who were certain to have a fish symbol on the back of the minivan.
Two weeks later I passed their house again, this time feeling the rain drizzle down my neck beneath the hooded poncho I wore against the storm. I was unhappy with the weather, and so my estimate of my neighbors was no more charitable the second time around. Someone had clearly raked the lawn since the last snowstorm: the leaves were piled against the curb; the debris of a miserable winter was carefully stacked for the truck that comes each Wednesday before sunrise. And yet they had left the sign just where it was, tilted at a rakish angle, preaching to the unbelieving—“He Is Risen!”
“Leave it up long enough,” I mumbled, “and it will be appropriate again.” I thought of the stylish boutique snowman that still sat beside our front door, urging the elements to “Let It Snow!” Ugh, I thought, and shivered at the shame of being out of season for no reason other than forgetfulness.
Last week I passed the cross again, noting the passionately purple crocuses and budding jonquils now springing up around its base. A slant of morning sunshine shafted through the oaks and illuminated the weathered sign with all the pent-up warmth of the Resurrection morning itself.
No longer railing against the weather, I was ready for a new estimate of my neighbor’s witnessing device. “Let’s see,” I counted as I paced the 27 yards of curb that front their house: “In just about that many days, 2 billion Christians around the globe will affirm their proclamation—‘He Is Risen!’ ”
And then, dull disciple that I am, I found the truth on a neighbor’s front lawn.
The message of Christ’s resurrection is not the captive of one season, nor does it grow unnecessary simply because the calendar moves past March or April. Though we surround it with white lilies and invest it with all our coiled yearning for spring, it is just as much a truth we need when lawns are decked with dandelions or chrysanthemums endure the frost.
The risenness that is our only hope is neither seasonal nor temporary, but rather an enduring victory Christ has won in the face of all the foul weather and deadly circumstances that perplex us all year round.
Come wind, come snow, come mud or heat or frozenness: all these—and so much more—give way to the undeterred and unwavering truth still planted on my neighbor’s lawn: “He Is Risen!”
Death has yielded up the only Victim it ever really cared to keep, and the devil cannot be consoled, for he knows his reign is ended. He grasps what the warming earth and the brimming sky now testify: Life has been given—freely, graciously, lastingly—to all who put their faith in Christ and the power of His resurrection.
And so, dear neighbor whose name I do not yet know—you have my thanks for the witness you didn’t take down, the sign you didn’t stow away, and the Resurrection of which you regularly remind me.
Stay at it, please—for my sake, and for all who yearn for deliverance more than watchmen for the morning, more than songbirds for the spring.