The grain of wheat falling to the earth and dying, bears fruit in our agricultural world. What are the grains of of our lives that in dying bear fruit of grace and blessing for us?
Oft times a hymn is a sermon in and of itself, with the hymn text writer serving as our So this morning I invite you to join me in the proclamation of my sermon, through your singing of today’s Hymn of the Day, Now the Green Blade Rises. We’ll start with verse 1, but keep your finger or your bulletin at the page for this hymn, because we’ll be returning to the other verses, also. Let’s now sing together verse 1 of Now the Green Blade Rises.
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;love lives again, that with the dead has been;love is come again like wheat arising green.
Whenever we talk about seeds that die in the ground, but then bring forth new growth … vines and plants and fruit that bring forth flowers and fruit … we are talking about death and life … and whenever we talk about death and life in the church, we are talking about “resurrection.” Case in point … I have here one of the flower pots in which some of our youngest Christians planted seeds about a month ago, under the careful eye of Sister Dottie in her Transfiguration Sunday children’s sermon. The seeds our children planted, were symbols for our “Alleluia” responses which we “bury” for the season of Lent. And Sister Dottie promised that by Easter morning, these seeds would be back again in the form of new growth … just as our Alleluia will be back in our worship service on Easter Sunday. If you look closely, you can see that the growth we await has already started. So … why do we get this little sneak peek of Easter? In response, I want to share with you the words of one of the wisest musicians with whom I have crossed paths in my 35 years of ministry: How could we possibly be singing an Easter Hymn in the middle of Lent? As a beautiful bridge of the seasons, and a reminder that we are always an Easter people, this hymn builds on the themes of seeds planted in the ground. If you want to post those words on your refrigerator at home, all you need do is turn to the study page in the front of our bulletin, where you will find this piece of theological wisdom from our own Director of Music, Adam.
Yes, our Hymn of the day today, Now the Green Blade Rises, is a sneak peek into the day of resurrection we await in just two weeks. And it reminds us that every Sunday, is in part Easter Sunday. Of, course, for something to come alive again, it needs to have first died. That is the sub-plot of human life in every shape and form … and in every time and place. The next stanza of our hymn speaks to this reality in our lives. Let’s now sing together verse 2 of Now the Green Blade Rises.
In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain, thinking that he would never wake again; laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen; love is come again like wheat arising green.
The verse speaks literally of the “big death” we focus on during the season of Lent … that death which occurred on the cross of Calvary … Jesus’ death. But many times in life, it is all of the little deaths we experience that lead us to that one final moment of life when death has the apparently final and last word. For Jesus, the seeds of death were sown throughout his public ministry. Teachings that threatened the power of the religious leaders of his day … miracles that were enacted on the Sabbath, and which were seen as breaches of the law against working on this day of rest … being a companion to lepers and sinners and tax collectors, which the religious community thought was improper behavior. Even the disciples were unable to completely comprehend the magnitude and purpose of Jesus ministry, and so the little deaths of Peter’s denial of Jesus along with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, helped set the stage for this final death we all know so well. It is a reality most of face in some way or another. There are “little deaths” confronting us every day of our lives. The argument that threatens a close friendship … that serious lapse of judgment which compromises one’s employment … the diagnosis of a condition that cripples a person’s freedom of movement … a momentary lapse of fidelity which ends a covenantal relationship. Yes, a little part of us dies almost every day of our lives, through the small losses and the modest griefs and the penultimate deaths that we endure because we spend our lives in an imperfect world. And they pave the way for that more final death we all face sooner or later.
This reality might lead us to utter hopelessness, were it not for the fact that we have been promised that the final death in our life, is never really final. Our hymn speaks to that great assurance, too. So, let’s now sing together verse 3 of Now the Green Blade Rises.
Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain, he that for three days in the grave had lain; raised from the dead, my living Lord is seen; love is come again like wheat arising green.
It is love that drives this rising from the dead which we will fully celebrate in two weeks. The love of a God who allowed the world to kill his Son, so that we might hope for more than that final end to our lives. Remember, today is but a foretaste of that great celebration … it is but a sip from the cup of hope that the empty tomb proclaims to us from 2000 years ago. But it is enough. It allows us to fully embrace the horrific story of Lent, which calls out a world that is so arrogant … so self-absorbed … so full of its own wisdom … that it killed our God who chose to walk around the earth with us, by sharing our own flesh. It allows us to raise our eyes to the cross upon which Jesus hangs, and dare to believe that it is not the final word on Jesus’ life, nor the final judgment upon our own lives. In short, it allows us hope … hope that gives us the courage to acknowledge our human sin. Hope that dares to believe that even though we regularly crucify Jesus through our disobedience and disregard for the life to which he has called us to live, he does not desert us. It is not always an easy attitude to adopt. It is not always a message of grace that we can believe. And so, we are reminded that we are not alone in this journey and calling. God never leaves us to fend for ourselves. Our hymn reminds us of that. So, let’s now sing together the final verse of our hymn … verse 4 of Now the Green Blade Rises.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, your touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been; love is come again like wheat arising green.
This life-changing resurrection which we await, does not turn the world into a perfect place. That has never been the promise of life in this world. But the message reminds us that God’s presence among us, promises that there will always be hope in the world, and that there will always be good in the world. Sometimes it grows from the faithful responses people bring to the dead ground school shooting and terrorist acts. Occasionally it arises in the rebuilding efforts of destructive storms and tragic natural disasters. Time and time again, it can be seen in one person choosing to return kindness in the face of anger, and grace in the face of judgment. Jesus reminds us, Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much frui.
I have stood at the graveside of persons whose families seemed irreparably estranged from each other. But who when confronted with seed of their loved one’s life being lowered into the sacred ground of a family cemetery plot, experienced that wheat arising green, which invited them to finally put aside their petty differences, so as to honor the hope for a unified family that their loved one had prayed for her whole life.
I have stood with a few dozen young couples at the mass burial of their children who had died before they took their first breath, through stillbirth, or miscarriage. And I have watched them drop small stuffed animals, and handfuls of flowers, and letters they have written to their children who would never realize the dreams of their parents. And as their tears fell upon that sacred ground, and they listened to words of hope from scripture and words of healing that God wrote on their very hearts, I could see wheat arising green cracking through the abject grief they were feeling over their loss, as they smiled over a memory from their pregnancy, or paused over a neonatal picture they held.
I have sat with persons at the end of life in a hospice setting, where the wheat arising green was their vision of departed loved ones who were unseen by me, but who they saw clearly as companions for their journey from this world to the next. God has never promised us a perfect life without pain or suffering.
But God has always promised that from even the darkest and driest and most barren ground, life can spring forth again in our world and in our lives. That is the message which the days of Lent offer to us,
Even when the reminders of that truth are modest shoots of that wheat arising green, we are gifted with the growth of hope in our world and our lives. Amen.