Romans 6:1-4 & Galatians 2:20
Over and over again during the past year, we have heard commentators reflecting on how quickly nature began to recover when most of the world went into lock-down. The grey smoggy skies began to clear and wild animals began to be seen in areas they hadn’t been see in decades. It is a reminder that if given a chance, nature has a remarkable ability to recover, or as Gary Ferguson puts it, nature can teach us the fine art of rising again.
He writes that this can most especially be seen in the wake of forest fires. These are natural phenomenon in nature, and under normal circumstances in previous centuries and decades most wild-fires would not have been a problem. In fact, the very opposite would have been true. Despite what would have seemed to have been the outward devastation, within weeks new growth would have begun breaking through and soon nature would have begun not just returning, but even thriving with old growth burned away and nutrients released for new growth to occur. A bit like pruning a rose bush that bursts forth with new life when it is pruned. He writes they have only become a problem in more recent years, because they are burning hotter and longer than they would have before. More recent fires he says, like those in Australia, California, have been burning so hot that they have often sterilised the soil destroying many of the organisms, insect life and seeds beneath the soil necessary for a quick recovery.
But even in the more recent devastating fires, even though recovery is much slower due to more extensive damage, nature continues to demonstrate that after disaster and disruption it has the ability of rising again. And in such instances, it is often pioneer plants, that we would call weeds, that begin this recovery process, protecting the soil from wind and rain erosion, and replenishing organic matter which creates a home for insects and microorganisms to grow again. Even weeds have a function in God’s scheme of things.
And so, it is as though, the truth of the resurrection is built into the fabric of all that God has made. Life cannot ultimately be destroyed, like daisies growing in the cracks of concrete, life rises again.
I have referred to Michael Dowd previously. He is what one could possibly call a Green Theologian. He has spent much of his ministry emphasizing the importance of caring for creation and helping Christians to reconnect with the centrality of creation and nature in their understanding of God. For Michael Dowd, God and nature, God and God’s creation cannot be neatly separated. Creation is an expression of the Divine. As the hymn writer puts it, “To all life Thou givest, to both great and small; In all life thou livest the True Life of all.” God’s Life and God’s character expresses itself through all that God has made.
It should come as no surprise then that Resurrection, which is a central theme in Christian theology is expressed again and again in God’s creation in the ability of nature to rise again out of disruption and disaster, even if in some instances, this ability to rise again happens over very long periods of time.
With regard to the growing ecological crisis that is before us, Michael Dowd suggests that even if humanity did it’s worst to the natural world and we brought upon ourselves a natural disaster that made human beings go extinct together with many other species, over a period of 12 million years from now, he says the earth will have fully recovered. This is in fact a very short space of time when compared with the nearly 14 Billion year history of the universe. He says in his darkest moments this gives him hope, that even though our current climate crisis is serious and could have very serious consequences for the future of humanity, he doesn’t believe that we will see that kind of worst case scenario of planetary extinction, but even if we did, God’s has created a world that over another 12 million years will come to full recovery. Does that mean we shouldn’t do our best to avert the crisis we are heading towards? Of course not! But it is a reminder that we worship a God of Resurrection, and that the truth of Resurrection, the truth of life out of death is woven into the fabric of all that God has made.
Gary Ferguson believes that the art truth of rising again which we see woven into nature is true also for us as human beings. He writes of one of the most devastating upheavals in his life when he and his first wife of 25 years suffered a tragic canoeing accident. They were swept into a long run of ferocious rapids, and the boat capsized. He managed to escape with serious bruising and a few broken bones, but for three days his wife, Jane, was missing, with rescue crews searching for her from sun-up to sun-down. Finally a search dog picked up a sign and a few hours later his wife’s life-less body was gently pulled out of the water. And from that moment, the long and often hopeless journey of grief began in earnest for him.
And yet, he writes that despite the emotional devastation that is caused in his life, and despite the long and often torturous journey of grief, from within that devastating experience new seeds for new growth slowly began to occur… new horizons opened up even in the shadow of his grief.
He writes: “My recovery was [like] a natural system rebooting itself after a psychological wild-fire of terrifying proportions. In the end for me too, life would yield still more life. More diversity in relationship. More gratitude. More beauty. Like [a landscape devastated by fire] I would in time be righted, friend by friend, plant by plant, bird by bird, until one day my ravaged heart and brain would return to my own unfolding.”
Even in the Bible, the truth of Resurrection has multiple layers and levels. On the one hand, at the heart of the Biblical writings on Resurrection is the story of Jesus’s own dying and rising that we remember and celebrate every year from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. And on Easter Sunday we explored something of the mystery of how this is expressed in the writings of the Apostle Paul. For Paul, his meeting with the Risen Christ, which he equates with the resurrection meetings of the other disciples, was not meeting with a flesh and blood body, but with a presence, a light and a voice.
But Paul especially interprets the theme of Resurrection in other ways… as a kind of a symbol of inner psychological and spiritual transformation. In Romans 6 he speaks of dying to sin and being raised to new life. He speaks of leaving an old way of being behind and becoming a new creation. These images conjure up the sense that dying and rising with Christ in the writings of the Apostle Paul was an image of old growth being burned away so that new life could begin to flourish and grow forth, like a forest growing into a new phase of abundance out of the ashes of disruption and devastation.
And all of this reminds and reassures us that though life is never smooth, and that living in this world brings with it moments of devastating loss and disruption, just as nature teaches us the fine art of rising again, we can live with the assurance, that even out of some of our darkest and most difficult moments in life, God’s resurrection power is constantly at work, helping us also to rise again finding new direction, new hope, new meaning and new life.
And as we experience God’s ability to help us rise again from moments of devastating loss, so a greater equanimity and resilience of spirit begins to settle within us, no longer quite as devastated by the curve balls that life throws at us. As the Apostle Paul puts it in Philippians 4:12 “I have learned the secret of being content, regardless of my circumstances, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.”