Red … brown … orange … green … gold …
As I go about all the things that I do in a day, these are the colors that we are starting to see as yet another fall envelops us. The trees outside the churches I serve are starting to turn. There are fiery gold and red leaves here and there, but most of the leaves are still a vibrant green just tinged around the edges with a little red here and a little orange there. The crops in the field are starting to dry out (a little later than usual according to this farm girl’s internal season-clock). The soybean fields look like they’re lit from within as they turn bright yellow, and the corn fields are starting to turn that gorgeous color that can only be described as cornstalk. It’s not quite yellow, not quite tan, not quite brown … it’s cornstalk.
Many people (this pastor-momma included) claim fall as their favorite seasons. We love the chill in the air that inspires fires in fireplaces, snuggling under blankets with those we love, and endless cups of hot chocolate, coffee, tea, or cider. We know that the brutal cold of winter is just around the corner, and so we savor the warmth of the sunshine and those Indian Summer days all the more.
But something occurred to me as I was driving away from daycare yesterday morning: All these beautiful colors and this awe-inspiring fall scenery is only possibly because everything around us is dying.
It’s a disturbing thought, but it’s true. The trees on the leaves – those self-same leaves that bring us so much visual pleasure right now – will be dead and falling off within the next few months. The crops in the field must dry and die off before they can be harvested. Even the plants in our gardens have to die. (Ours have long since turned brown and been chopped down thanks to my wonderfully dedicated husband.)
And as I think about this interesting juxtaposition – the beauty preceding the death – I can’t help but thank God for sending us a Savior. Before Christ was born into this world to cleanse us of our sins and to irreversibly repair our shattered relationship with God, death was something to fear. Whether or not you believe in a “real” hell, before Jesus, we faced an eternity of the unknown.
But now … now we have Jesus. We have salvation. We have the promise of what is to come:
Jesus [said], “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” (John 11:25)
But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)
Now, instead of fearing the end of life, we can rest assured in the grace and mercy of God. We can rest assured in our salvation through Christ who was able even to conquer something as sure and frightening as death and turn it into something beautiful: an eternal life with God.
Beauty at the end of life. Vibrant green leaves tinged with red and orange, just starting to die.
In our world, we find beauty at the end of life. We see this every fall, but we also see it in the wake of terrible things like forest fires when small green shoots start to poke out of the ashes. We see it in the growing cycles of the crops that sustain us. And we see it in the ones we love.
This is a picture of my grandma and one of my boys, her great-grandson (2nd great-grandchild). Grandma’s in her late 80s. When this picture was taken, Ian was about 3 months old. Grandma’s life has been long – full of many challenges and many blessings. Her timeline is starting to be tinged with red and gold just like those leaves. And yet there is so much beauty there. There is beauty in the way she lives, spending as much of her time as she can doing whatever she can to help other people. (She still reads to the “old people” at the local nursing home … most of whom are probably younger than she is. She still picks up the “old ladies” for church every Sunday morning … at least one of whom is most certainly younger than she is.) There is beauty in the faith she lives, a faith that has remained both central and strong even though she lost her own husband 50 years ago when their boys (my dad and uncles) were 10, 9, 6, and 3. There is beauty in every wrinkle on her face and every white hair on her head.
And there is overwhelming beauty (yup … tearing up again) in seeing such incredible love span generations like this. Look at the smile on my grandma’s face as she looks at Ian. Look at the smile on Ian’s face as he stares up at her. I can’t help but wonder what he sees … what he thinks … what he knows and understands about this beautiful moment.
Every fall, we let ourselves get wrapped up in the stunning scenery and exceptional beauty of the world as it once again cycles through the process of dying. But the reason we can revel in such a change is because we know that when spring comes around again, everything will be reborn. The bulbs in the flower garden will once again poke their little shoots out. The tractors will once again chug through the fields planting seeds that will soon be full of tall and lush plants (please, God!). The buds on the trees will once again burst into tiny cluster of that vivid green that we love to see in the spring.
And as we look at the end of our own lives – whether we are near that end, whether our lives have just begun, or whether we’re somewhere in between – it is my hope and prayer that you can find joy in the promised splendor that is to come:
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:1-3)