Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.John 12:24 (NASB)
I really did think the raspberry bush was dead.
I’m not the primary gardener in our family; that’s my husband, the garden visionary, shopper, planter, and maintainer. Honestly, I’m barely even the secondary gardener, an honor that probably goes to my oldest daughter. I’m pretty much around for the harvest, the one who watches the tomatoes, peas and carrots and plucks them out at just the right time to turn them into salad. It’s not a hard job, but I like it.
So it’s with this gardening ineptitude that I deemed the raspberries fully dead. They’d been moved a few times, and by the fall had no leaves left at all. They were just dry, bare, amber-colored branches, clawing at the weathered lattice by the recycling bins. They were sad and lonely, and if I were the one who rips out the dead garden plants, I’d have ripped them out, along with the tomatoes.
My husband, though, left them alone, so I did too, looking at them through the dining room window every now and then, peering at them as I took out the trash and picked up the newspaper. They made me sad, made me want to start over with new raspberry bushes.
So, when our preschool teacher asked me a few months ago if I’d like some helpful extra plants that had leapt out of their bed at the school, I jumped at the chance.
“Yes!” I said, far too enthusiastically. “I’d love some! Ours are dead,” I added, moderating my tone to match the sadness of the occasion.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “How do you know it’s dead?”
“Well, it lost all of its leaves. They’re just bare branches. It must be gone, right?”
She shook her head, smiling, and brought me over to the preschool’s sprawling little garden, almost entirely composed of raspberry and rosemary bushes.
“Does it look like this?” she asked, motioning to the forest of leafless bushes.
“Yes,” I said, cautious. “They look just like this. They’re… are they not dead?”
“Not at all!” said Preschool Teacher. “Look here, you can see the buds at the end of the branches. Not every branch will have one, but most of them will. Look for the buds on yours; they’re probably there. It’s just how raspberries look in the winter.”
Sure enough, when I got home I examined the forlorn-looking plant, only to find the promise of new life, tiny orange buds, at the tips of the branches. Our raspberry bush, hearty survivor of four transplants, a heat wave, a few snowstorms, had made it through the winter.
Sometimes, we need someone else to remind us that this season isn’t forever. We need someone with a longer memory, or more wisdom, or simply a different perspective, someone who holds onto different memories and brings them out at just the right moment. Every spring, I need someone to remind me that summer is worth waiting for through the ups and downs (and this year more downs of spring). I need someone to tell me that this season is normal, the new life is coming even when it’s still below 40˚ F, and my kids insist on wearing t-shirts and then catch colds that last the whole of spring break and stretch into the next week, too. It’s not forever.
I’m thinking about this today, Resurrection Sunday, after returning home from a church service that felt almost, a little bit, just nearly normal. It was 2019 when we last gathered on Easter as a church. My 3.5 year old was a baby, and today she’s wearing the dress her older sister wore then. We’re singing songs I remember from childhood, and kids are being baptized in a metal farm trough up front. I don’t know a lot of people, but I know some. More than anything it is a feeling I recognize, a surprising joy that comes with worshipping together, celebrating in one place as one body after so long.
If I’m honest, there are still so many challenges that I need to be reminded aren’t forever, so many places in my life that feel like a long Holy Saturday, waiting for the resurrection. I need days like today, the reminder that in this world of wars and division, disease and uncertainty, Christ is risen, with us, that God is making all things new.
Even things that seem pretty far gone, like a raspberry bush in November.
Happy Easter to you! I pray that each of you has a remarkable day of celebration. Let us remind each other of the power of this good news, even in troubling times. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!