Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Promise of Bare Branches

The text for the second Sunday in lent can be found here

Early spring can have such a moody nature, at least here in Oxford. One day you catch glimpses of the sun and feel the warmth on your back, only to have the next day be gray, damp and cold - with all promises of warmer weather blown away. 

Abram (this is before he is given his new name)has had previous meetings with God (Gen. 12) where he had been given the promise of children and a great inheritance, had set out on a strenuous journey in faith, but he has still not seen any of it come to pass. So when God comes to Abram this time proclaiming that He is his shield, rather than being comforting to Abram, it evokes despair and doubt. He questions God and the fulfillment of the promises the Lord has made to him. Even though he has had encounters with Gods glory, he is still overcome by gray cloud of the mundane and lack of fruition of the promises he thought were given him. God takes him outside, but there is no spectacular vision the Lord shows Abram. He asks him to look at the starlit skies, probably one of the most ordinary, mundane and familiar sights Abram knew having spent a lifetime living under them. God takes the ordinary and shows that it is an embodiment of His promises, He makes it a meeting point and constant reminder of His relationship to Abram.

Under those same stars, when Abram has descended into deep sleep and terrifying darkness - again so different from what I think the experience of God's glory might be - God forms a covenant with Abram. A commitment made by God that Abram only has a sleeping part in... God is the initiator and upholder of the promise made.

To me this infuses the season of spring and Lent with new depths, let me see if I can articulate why...

Spring and Lent are both to me times of fluttering of life. 

Spring is moody in nature, just as much making starkly obvious the lack of life in the bare branches, the withered decomposing remnants of last years plants and the dark empty soil, as announcing the new life to come in the returning heat and light of the sun, the tips of green sprouting from the ground. As one prone to winter depression, a lovely spring day can sometimes seem even more cruel than a dark winters day as the contrast becomes too great and the fear of being left behind in the death of winter darkness, when others emerge in the new life of spring, can hit hard. 

Likewise Lent to me has the same characteristics of making starkly obvious the lack of life in the stripping bare - in the laying down comforts through the practice of fasting, an unveiling of the heart in the disconcerting and unfamiliar clouds of God's glory (as in the previous musing on Moses's encounter with God) and the knowing that the darkness of Good Friday - where all that is left us is, echoing Mary Magdalene words, it that: "Our Lord is dead, and we do not know where they have put him.". Yet at the same time in the practice of lent and the stories we read and the in knowledge of the Resurrection that is to come, just as with spring, we are always reminded of the life and promises that are breaking through just under the surface - this is the promise the bare branches of spring carry for me. 

And until it comes into fruition, God comes, like He did to Moses, showing us His glory and promises in the humdrum of our everyday lives - if needed, he even comes into the midst of our tiredness and surrounding darkness, letting us sleep while he does the work.              

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