In our complicated world of abstractions and specters it is very easy – nay necessary- to compartmentalize the world around us, so that we can understand it and easily think about it. Take barbecues for example; when we think of them, we don’t think of any particular instance of a barbecue we were at, we think of the idyllic image of the great American cookout, with children playing, men cooking and drinking beer – all American beers of course- and everyone talking and laughing and having a wonderful time. So too do we idealize the season of spring.
When we think of spring, we imagine a very effeminate vision of it. We see a dainty set of flowers and pastel colors, everything sort of blending into an almost impressionistic sense of serenity as if the whole world was just one elaborate Monet work. We think of birds, and rabbits, and eggs, and jelly beans. Many of us know these to all be symbols of new life, but what we somehow manage to forget -which is a necessary part of this “new life”- is that not more than a month ago, all of this new and beautiful life was dead.
We all too quickly abandon ourselves to our pastoral, edenic, vision of spring and completely miss the horrifying fact that in it we witness the dead coming back to life. Now, it’s true that, scientifically speaking, the trees, the grass, and the flowers weren’t really dead, and the neither were the birds or the rabbits, but they were dead to our experience. As frightened as anyone who has ever seen the movie Pulp Fiction was by the scene where Uma Thurman was jolted back to life by an adrenaline shot, so too should all of us be when, just as suddenly we awake to the birdsong almost forgotten, and the flowers and trees in bloom.
And perhaps it is also how sudden the change is that also makes it so frightening. You go to bed to a cold and desolate world and awake to a warm and inviting sky and the ground aflame with bright and passionate flowers that carry their flame of life in such a manner that one would not believe that they could ever die, save for our previous experience with them. Indeed, almost over night, our entire world is overrun by an army, the likes of which the world seldom sees, of things which had for so long been dead and forgotten. But unlike the undead of our fiction, these are not zombies, they do not mimic life, instead they have it -truly have it. It is far more frightening for something to rise from the dead and truly be alive than for it to just be an animated blob of flesh.
And so, in this season we also remember that Christ is Risen, and in exactly the same way. He was dead, more truly dead than the hibernation of the natural world, but to our experience the deaths are the same. Like the bees and the rabbits and the birds Christ is risen not as a zombie, but as one who has true life! Christ, like the flame of the wildflowers, kindles a fire of hope within us, that we who follow him will some day rise like him, not as bruiting, mindless, flesh-hungry monsters which need to kill to sustain themselves, but instead as ones who have the true life within them.
We will be like the animals who are all but forgotten over the long and desolate winters, alive again and alive in fullness. And the trees stand alive, topped with leaves like the green flames of the Holy Spirit upon the heads of the Apostles at Pentecost.
In this frightening and forceful display of strength and power, nature prefigures for us a look – albeit simple and flawed- at the reality of our own resurrection from the dead.