Fall is fast approaching and it’s a beautiful time in New England. The leaves are changing colors and there is a nip in the air. I work on a university campus which has seen the arrival of students for the fall semester. Everything is pointing towards autumn. Depending on your personal preference, fall can be the start of pumpkin spice, horror movies, or maybe both.
In much of the liturgical Church calendar, we’re in a period called ‘Time After Pentecost’. This is a period after Easter and Pentecost and before Advent. This takes up the summer and fall. However, I think the Church could use a couple more important touchstones in the Calendar. I think autumn has a lot to say about the life of the Christian, especially in the current American climate.
The Coming Death
Autumn is a time where the leaves are changing due to the production of chlorophyll in the leaves. Chlorophyll is what gives leaves their vibrant green coloring and is a part of photosynthesis of plants. As the season changes, this production slows until it eventually stops. We then see leaves fall and tress die or go into hibernation. Many plants and trees go through this process, but there are a few trees (think evergreens at Christmas) that continue to stay green throughout the winter months.
This coming death is beautiful in New England. If you’ve seen a picture of Vermont or New Hampshire, you’ve probably seen the covered bridges with golden yellow and red leaves. This is nature telling us that death is coming. Nature knows that death is not only a part of life, but is necessary for life. Year in and year out is a cycle of birth, flourishing, dying, and the grave.
Let’s look at a theological and social aspect of the autumn of Christianity.
Autumn as Theology
The Church Calendar is designed to organize and remind Christians of the important parts of the Christian faith. While most of the calendar is focused on Christmas and Easter, fall should not be overlooked. Christians believe that Jesus’ death is the focal point of his life. Whether you believe the death of Jesus was payment for sin to enter heaven or an example to be followed, we look towards it with hope.
It’s hard to not see Jesus’ time in the Garden as the autumn of his work on earth. He prepares for his imminent death much like the oak tree drops an acorn. If we read Jesus of the Gospels without a theological lens, we see a man who does not want to suffer through the death of crucifixion. Jesus is looking for another way to fulfill his mission. We know, much like the oak tree, that this death must happen for the rebirth of the next life.
Autumn of the Church
The American Church is in autumn. The consumer and nationalist wings of the Church are starting to die. This painful reimagination of the American Church will lead to the death of these types of Christianity in America.
Even with the numerous scandals in the American Church, acorns of authentic Christianity have found their way to fertile soil. I talk about going back to church in this article. However, when I decided to go back, I didn’t want to go back to a dying church system. My faith had aged through the autumn and died in winter. Now, with the new buds of spring, my wife and I were able to find a church that aligned with our new sprouting faith.
Autumn of the Church was difficult for us. Those things that helped us grow were no longer satisfying. We left our home, our church home, and church family. Even though it was painful, it was the move we needed to make. We waited out the winter of the death of our old faith and found life in spring. Without this fall period, we never would have made it to where we are now – to our new home.
The imminent death of winter is beautiful in fall. Maybe it’s because we know spring is around the corner. Maybe it’s because as old things fade away we see the beauty in where we’ve been. Either way, the next time you see the leaves change, remember there is a season for everything. The natural world knows the importance of rebirth. Now it’s our turn to listen to nature and find what is dying in our lives to make room for new buds.