This is my first reflection from our new home in Alexandra. We are back in Australia now, but I will continue to ‘blog’, even though I am not writing a weekly reflection for a congregation.
I remember a lovely story about a BBC radio presenter whose show was cancelled because of World War Two. When the war was over, he resumed his duties. The first words he spoke when he returned to the air waves were “…as I was saying….’ And on the show went.
Well,…..’…as I was saying. Having moved back to Alexandra, I am catching up with old friends and acquaintances. One person whom I knew had moved from his property into town. He has a lovely house which he renovated. I asked “How are things going for you, having moved into town?” He replied “Pretty good really, but I miss lambing and calving season” (which is about now: spring).
This got me wondering about the wonder of fertility. What is that? Either at the birth of a lamb or calf, or at the birth of a baby or at the coming up of seeds there is a mystery. How does this happen. Well now we know about the science of most of it. But what we still wonder at is the defiance of death that fertility represents.
Psalm 103 goes: “We grow up as a flower of the field, the wind goes over it and it is gone, and its place will know it no more.” The fear behind the psalm is that in the face of death, each of our existences will be wiped out, and no one will remember us.
There is a poem that captures the fear:
‘Take a bucket and fill it with water,
put your hand in it up to the wrist,
take it out and the hole that’s remaining,
is a measure of how much you’ll be missed!”
No!!!!! I don’t want to die. I don’t want the significance of my life to be nothing. I want to count for something that will last after I’m gone.
It is this longing for significance in the face of the mystery of ‘non-being’ that makes us full of awe that in fact, on the earth there is the miracle of continuance: fertility.
Behind this wonder lies the mystery of death, and the question of whether or not my life means anything.
There are lots of ways that this response to the mystery of death comes out. President Obama is now, like other presidents before him, concerned about his ‘legacy’, now that his term is coming to an end.
Others build statues and other monuments to their names, or to causes so that death will not wipe out the memory of those who did something important.
It is not surprising that the Bible is also full of reflection on this issue. The battle with the Baals and JHWH that comes to a head with the prophet Elijah is a battle between the God of fertility (where the prayer of the people is: please god, let everything be the same as it was last year!) , and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who sustains nature, but encompasses history, and is Lord of Nature too. The prayer of worshippers of YHWH is “Please God, although we disappear like the flowers of the field, let your merciful covenant love torward us continue to sustain us. May we do justice, and may we follow wherever you go in the pillar of cloud and fire. Let us sing your new song, when you start to do a new thing!” This is the difference between the worship of a golden calf, and a holy of holies that is empty except for the memory of God’s covenant with God’s people.
For Christians, the ultimate response to the fear of death and the anxiety about our continuity is the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of the crucified one subsumes into the very life of God’s own being the kind of love that goes after the lost sheep and brings them home. It embraces the kind of love that can ‘remove all guilty fear and love beget.’ It says that the future of the whole human race is now part of the future of Christ the one who became ‘sin’ for us, so that we who are baptized into Christ might demonstrate how God’s righteousness works: in the loving embrace of deathliness, in order to bring us all into life again.
The Church is, in these times of decline, in a constant state of anxiety about the fact that it is not ‘fertile’ in that the ways of being Church which people have grown up with do not look like continuing. We are worried by our ‘fertility’ as Church.
We love baptisms because they remind us of human fertility, and by association, speak to us of the fertility of the Church in the face of our potential death. We all know that at some level, an infant baptism will not result in the fertility of the Church because most times, the people whom we baptize don’t care much about it. But for a moment or two we enjoy the ‘opiate’ of a baptism and are in denial about the real fertility of the Church.
There is not time here to go into deeper issues like the rise of Pentecostalism and the popularity of groups like ‘Hillsong’ or to think about the Roman Catholic emphasis on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. I write as an Anglican, and Anglicans as I know most of them do not want to go the ‘Pentecostal’ route to fertility, nor can they take the need for Christian Initiation seriously. So we are in a cleft stick about fertility!
So the love of being fertile, for Christians, becomes both the willingness to tell the true story of how God in Christ embraces both nature and history into the life of the Trinity on Good Friday. If we really understood it, we could be committed both to telling this story, and winning others for this most deep response, to our deepest fears. But in doing that we can also show forth an acceptance of death because from now on ‘our lives are hid with Christ in God.’ Or ‘It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see him as he is!’
The lambing season for all of humanity, and the Church is now, and not yet.
Your companion on the way,