Thursday, April 13, 2017
Unless a grain of wheat falls...
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Chris returned home to Estes Park, Colorado this week after spending the late winter season with us here on Maui. Before leaving she sent an Easter card from her Kīhei address in which she wrote the following: “For me, spring is a time of new growth and hope and renewal. Colorado has been having wet snows, so when I return, there will be green grass. Perhaps the wild crocuses will be up. Soon, in early May, hummingbirds return.”
“I will buy pansies. They don’t mind the cold. My Swedish grandfather always planted them for my gram.”
Bev lives in Lake City, Minnesota. She sent an Easter card to us entitled “Pueo.” The card featured an owl in an original watercolor painting by Sherri Reeve of Makawao. A Zen proverb on the card read: “Sometimes simply by sitting, the soul collects wisdom.”
On a night such as this there is no grand fanfare and no bright colorful lights. Simply by sitting and listening with our ears, our hearts, our eyes and our minds, we will collect the wisdom of this night for our souls and they come from friends and family like Bev and Chris.
In her card, Bev shared a quote from “Faces at the Cross” by J. Barrie Shepherd. Shepherd wrote: “There is a proper penitence that leads across this leaning forward season, no mere regret or manufactured mortifying, no self-imposed remorse about those mild suburban sins that spot and stain the corners of our copybooks; rather a purging as of earth preparing spring time; a meeting, washing action like the rain, a breaking up and turning over of the soil that is the human soul; a casting off of chrysalis, that old and wrinkled yet familiar skin, before the aching ecstasy of flight on wings unfolding iridescence to the new-spilled light . . .”
Bev went on to say, “I guess the ‘old Iowa farmer’ in me relates to the ‘turning of the soil.’” Our reading from The Gospel According to John this evening reminds us of the significance of this season - about life and death, death and life – about seeds falling to the ground; about a breaking and turning over the soil that is the human soul.
Jesus is in Jerusalem for the final time. It is a time of turning. He is aware of his impending death.
When Andrew and Philip tell him that there some who wanted to see him, Jesus alludes to his death. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
Chris reminds us through her observation of the wild crocus and Bev reminds us through the work of a writer-poet that it is through death that new life emerges. While we yearn for such a new life, we know that it may not always come with great ease. Often it will come through the suffering, pain, sorrow and grief we experience in our own lives.
“The Crucifixion” by Samuel Barber appears in the Hermit Songs, a collection of poems written by Irish monks and scholars from the 8th to the 13th centuries. With the help of John Rowehl, our Director of Music, on the keyboard, Tracey Bloser is with us tonight to share the text that appears in The Speckled Book. It was translated by Howard Mumford Johnes in the 12th century.
It reads: “The crucifixion at the cry of the first bird. They began to crucify Thee, O Swan! Never shall lament cease because of that. It was like the parting of day from night. Ah, sore was the suffering borne by the body of Mary’s Son, but sorer still to him was the grief which for his sake came upon his mother.”
Despite the grief felt by his own mother, Jesus is aware of what must come to pass. He is aware of what it will take for the disciples, for us to follow in his way. On the one hand, he foreshadows their deaths and our own and on the other hand, he makes clear to them that it will be through a life of service to God and to others that their lives will bear much fruit.
For Chris and many others, spring will be a season of new growth. It is a growth made possible whenever a seed falls to the ground in winter. While our inclination is to say the seed dies, others are more inclined to insist the seed falls asleep only to awaken and burst forth with new life.
It is a metaphor descriptive of we will come to celebrate – not on this night – but soon. Thanks be to God. Amen.