The hymn Now the Green Blade Riseth sung beautifully this morning loosely refers to the Christian texts in Mark 4: The earth beareth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And also the verse in John 12: I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
The hymn written by minister John Crum in the 1920’s takes these verses and weaves a wonderful metaphor not only referring to the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus but also to the resurrection / rebirth of love in a heart wounded and grieving. It is this second metaphor that I want to explore on this day of celebrating resurrection, this day of celebrating spring’s rising to new life.
We need that assurance that love not only can but will prevail ultimately. As Rob Bell writes, Love Wins. Love wins. And it wins even when all signs point to the opposite. The green blade riseth from the buried grain/ wheat that in dark earth many days has lain/ Love lives again, that with the dead has been/ love comes again like wheat that springeth green.
I officiated at an outdoor wedding last week and on the property were these 200 year old oaks whose branches were covered with small ferns—called the resurrection fern. In times of drought the fronds of this fern are dry, apparently dead/lifeless. But when the rain comes, these fronds become healthy and supple, vibrant with life. It had been raining and these fronds were full of life.
But there is another plant that is even more amazing called the Ibervillea Sonorae. This desert plant of the gourd family can appear as a piece of drift wood for years. When the rains come, it will burst forth in magnificent full bloom and produce gourds and then die off and wait again. NY Botanical Garden reportedly had one; they purposefully kept it from water to see how long it would live in its drift wood state. Each year it would tentatively send out green tendrils looking for a source of water. If there was none to be found, it would shrivel back and return to its drift wood state. For seven years the plant waited for the moment of rebirth before it died.
I found that number of years to be meaningful. Without delving too much into numerology, the number seven is a significant number metaphorically in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Genesis story has god resting on the seventh day of creation. A Hebrew slave is to be released in the seventh year. Hebrews insisted a field be fallow every seven years; and of course the notion that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath, a day of rest. Jesus was once asked how many times to forgive someone for the same offense, seven times? No, Jesus replied, seventy times seven. So seven years for a desert plant to wait for resurrection seems theologically significant. It suggests that we are not to give up on love. Even after waiting a time period numbering seventy times seven and the appearance of anything different still seems dead impossible—we are not to give up on love. Seven seems to be the number of the Sabbath, the rest needed to bring about rejuvenation/ new life/ or new starts can begin. But it also seems to imply that just when by all appearances everything seems to be forever in the dead of night, the moment of dawn occurs and a bright new day begins.
A blog post on this amazing plant asks the questions: How dead does something have to appear before it is dead? How dry and lifeless and alone and fruitless does something have to be before it is actually, and finally, beyond hope? *
For the Ibervillea apparently a very long time. When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain, Love’s touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
That is often the fear, isn’t it, that our hearts once bereft will be kept in an eternal wintry mess and spring’s warm caress of new life will never come or never come in time? So how do we wait patiently like the Ibervillea day after day, week after week? It isn’t easy.
I believe the point of Jesus’ message is not in his death and resurrection. At least not in the way the orthodox theology has established it. The point is that Jesus kept saying the kingdom of god / the beloved community was within us, the realm of heaven is indeed within us. He stated this before his death and resurrection. It was not a condition contingent on his crucifixion; it was already according to Jesus a reality. Christianity has placed the emPHASis on the wrong sylLAHble. Just as the Ibervillea has everything ready within it to burst forth with new vines of flowers and gourds, we too have everything within us we need to burst forth with love to transform our society from the dried piece of drift wood it seems to be to a lush garden of life.
This beloved community with in us is the green blade that riseth in the hearts of people who seek to live according to the universal truth that we are all one people/ one family. What we do to one person we do to all. I’ve said this before and I truly am convinced that Jesus’ core message is found in what he considers to be the greatest commandments of the Tanakh, the scriptures of Jesus’ day: “To love god / Life with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul, and with all one’s mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything else falls under these two commands.
I have come to believe that to focus on the crucifixion and resurrection is a form of cheap grace. There is no need for personal growth and health when this becomes the central piece of salvation. Even history’s worst villains of the western world claimed to be Christian because they believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Say the sinner’s prayer and be on your way—nothing more to be seen here. But when the person seeks to fulfill the great command—whether it is stated in the words of Jesus or the Dalai Lama or Karen Armstrong or Thich Nhat Hanh then the person becomes engaged and their lives are transformed in ways that are mysterious and wonderful. The rest, as the Rabbi Hillel said, is commentary.
So reach out to the person who is grieving or in pain with compassion, with love as you would want someone to reach out to you in love and become that life saving water that encourages the green blade to rise again. Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
Green Blade Rises
Rev Fred L Hammond 31 March 2013 ©
Presented at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa