[Texts: Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10, 14-17; Mark 7:24-37]
When I was a teenager, I lived in Connecticut for a year and a half. The boarding school I attended required all students to sign up for a physically active after-school activity, called a “Life Sport”, for the year. A list of available Life Sports would be posted online, you’d indicate your first, second, and third choice, and they would assign spots on a a first-come, first-serve basis. A lot of the choices were pretty lame, to be honest, and most of the ones that weren’t lame filled up quickly.
I knew I probably wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance of getting into my first choice, but I put it down anyway just in case. As I predicted, it filled up faster than you could even say “Ultimate Frisbee”. So I ended up with my second choice: the walking club.
As it turns out, the walking club was pretty awesome. We were allowed to listen to our iPods or chat with one another as we walked, it wasn’t particularly athletically rigorous, and the route we took was reasonably scenic. We went through a wooded area, over a stream, past a few secluded houses, and then back to campus. I’m very much an outdoor person, so this was right up my alley.
The only requirements for clothing in the walking club were that we had to wear closed-toed shoes and dress appropriately for the weather– because, we were told, barring a blizzard or a thunderstorm, we would walk every school day, rain or shine.
We started out the school year in shorts and t-shirts in the relative heat of August. Slowly, as the year marched on, shorts turned to jeans and hoodies covered t-shirts. By the time we were preparing to go home for Christmas, we were wearing winter jackets, hats, and boots.
We came back from break in the middle of January and resumed classes, as well as Life Sports, in the midst of an especially persistent winter. The cold and the snow seemed like they might never end. I was almost inclined to believe that the groundhog might be onto something when he predicted six more weeks of it.
But, toward the end of February, I couldn’t help noticing something peculiar along the trail during the walking club’s daily treks: small, striking yellow and purple buds peeking up from beneath the snow. They soon bloomed into beautiful flowers, long before anything else was even beginning to show signs that spring might be around the corner.
I asked Carol, the faculty advisor for the walking club, what they were. She didn’t know, so I decided to identify them myself. I snapped a few pictures with my cellphone for reference. (And I will date myself: this was my first cellphone, and it was a bubblegum pink Motorola RAZR flip phone, which was the height of coolness in 2007.)
It took some Googling, but I was able to figure out what these curious little blossoms were: they were crocuses, the same flower that the prophet Isaiah spoke of in this morning’s reading. And I think Isaiah was making a point by invoking this particular type of flower.
In Connecticut that February, the ground was covered in at least an inch or two of snow all the time. We were still making our daily treks in boots and North Face jackets. It was cold, windy, and you had to be careful about slipping on ice. No other flowers had even thought about coming up yet, let alone blooming. Oh, and, to add insult to injury, that miserable little fuzzy rodent in Pennsylvania apparently saw its miserable little fuzzy shadow, condemning the world to even more winter.
Yep, we were doomed.
Except… well, except for the crocuses. They told a different story.
See, what I discovered on my Google search was that crocuses are almost always the first flower to bloom every year. They bloom in spite of the cold, in spite of the snow, in spite of the ice, and even in spite of the groundhog’s shadow. They are there, vibrantly yellow and purple in defiance of the surrounding snow. They’re there, in the midst of snow tires and heavy coats and all the other trappings of winter, telling us that spring is coming, telling us that soon everything will be new and green again, even when everything else in the world tells us otherwise.
What do you think? Can the Church do that?
Can we do it– as our baptismal covenant charges us– both “by word and example”? Not only with our voices but with our lives– with our activism, our money, our vote, our time, and our talents, just for starters?
Can we be that radiant speck of beauty and life that defies the cold and the wind and the ice?
Can the Church be a belligerent little crocus flower popping up in the snow, bearing witness to the good news of resurrection, even when everything seems hopeless and cold and dark?
Spring is coming. We know that. We’ve read the end of the story. We know the green blade rises from the buried grain. We know that newness, wholeness, and resurrection win in the end.
But sometimes the world doesn’t look that way.
How can we bloom to show them otherwise?
How can we be a crocus in the snow?