In the wake of the big Blizzard of 2013, we are still caught in the tight grip of winter. This morning the wind burned my face as I walked our two dogs for their pre-dawn constitutional, and piles of plowed snow still towered at the edges of the road. Most of the sidewalks have not yet seen the light of day.
So it is hard to comprehend that we are now on the fast track to Easter, which falls relatively early this year, at the tail end of March. I am ready for pussy willows and crocus, and the first sunny dandelion to push a golden flower out into the morning light on the field across the street from the church. But at the moment, those things seem far, far away. It feels, instead, that winter will never end.
But there are little moments, signs, visions that give hope. One morning we looked out the back door and discovered a bright pink flamingo taking up residence in a snow bank next to the driveway. It did not fly in from Florida, but appeared thanks to a friend who must have been waiting for this opportunity to surprise us. This flash of pink, keeping vigil in a world of white and gray, is a reminder of the other hidden surprises that are just beyond our sight. In fact, down by the railroad tracks, in a muddy gully where surprises aren’t expected, I have spotted the first pointed tips of skunk cabbages rising through ice in search of the sun. And the birds, even on these cold late winter mornings, have started to sing with the voices of Spring.
The journey from Lent to Easter is a time to seek those signs which promise a transformation. It is convenient that we live here in the Northern Hemisphere where the natural world around us mirrors that change. But Lent is more truly an inward journey from winter to Spring. It is our own spiritual movement from wilderness to Promised Land, from sorrow to joy, from being lost to being found, from Cross to Resurrection.
This season we are using a new hymn in worship on Sunday mornings, He Comes To Us as One Unknown, published in 1984 by the English writer Timothy Dudley-Smith. It is based on a famous quotation by Albert Schweitzer, who reflected on the call of disciples in every age to follow Christ. He wrote,
“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those . . . who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ . . . And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
The hymn suggests that his coming, however, is not as blatant as we might sometimes wish. If we want to experience his mysterious coming, we must pay attention carefully. We must look within, as if our hearts of stone suddenly might feel a pulse stirring inside, or a shriveled seed of something--maybe faith--suddenly could awaken, sprouting into a creature we might become if we opened ourselves to Christ. The hymn also imagines that Christ may come in the nighttime of our lives--or perhaps those dark, cold winter days--when we feel hopeless, anxious, uncertain about everything, appearing like “a falling star across the sky.” Or Christ may speak to us in the silence of our secret longing, like the whisper of the tide or the breath of wind in the treetops, “a voice to call us home.”
The challenge of our various lives is that we are all peculiar, strong-willed individuals. No matter how much we think we understand each other, there is something vastly different about every one of us. We have each followed a different path from birth to this particular moment in time in which we live today. So the Unknown One must use a different voice, a unique presence, to call each one of us to himself. We might find him in the world of nature, the face smiling in a sunset or a whisper of laughter in snowdrops on a March morning. He may come to us in the presence of some angel of mercy, a familiar friend or a stranger who offers us unexpected grace, kindness, or forgiveness. He may come to us in church on a Sunday morning, as we feel the warm presence of his love and peace around us as we pray or sing or listen to the Scriptures suddenly come to life. Or he may come to us in crisis or pain, the healing hope in some dark night or the higher power that allows us to begin again when our life has fallen apart. Step one is for us to pay attention, so that we might be ready to receive him when the Unknown One comes to us.
Step two is to give thanks for the promise that he keeps coming, always seeking our lost selves, always loving us, always delighting in each simple act of joy and gratitude. He never gives up, this Eternal Seeker. He comes to us, even sometimes like a flamingo in a snowdrift, out of season, with a promise that no matter what the world may look like, Easter is before us.