It was April, and a thousand daffodils were blooming down the hillsides, along the pond banks, and up near the old Bascom House. Helen met Papa Larry and I in the parking lot of Shaw Nature Reserve. It had been more than a year since we’d seen her, and I’d forgotten how her laugh sounded like a friendly howl.
We found the daffodils on the hill over Pinetum Lake, and Helen sat crosslegged in the grass at the foot of Papa’s wheelchair, her short, white hair caught by the wind. We were there because Papa’s poem – “The Reason for the Daffodils” – had been framed at the head of a historical trail. He took a picture of Helen standing next to it, but refused to let us take one of him.
I left them up in the forty-five-degree sun and wind, talking about horticulture and John Behrer and Mr. Russell (who passed away the week before, bless him), and the pandemic that shut spring away from everyone but Helen, who lives on the backside of the Reserve and couldn’t keep herself from walking it every day.
Taking the road up to the Bascom House, I sat at the edge of a field of nodding daffodils, beneath a magnolia and some sort of native pear tree. Then I circled to the backside of the tall, old house where, in summer, the prairie grasses stretch out and down to the woods line. But the prairie just then was stubbled and scarred by burns, and I remembered reading a newspaper article about how vital the controlled burns are to native growth here— even if the front-page picture showed smoke choking the fields.
“That’s the thing about native grasslands,” Papa said as we drove toward the front gate later, “In winter, they’re nothing but brown, and you wouldn’t know how green and wonderful they can be.”
“Green and wonderful” is what we’ve been watching for in our own backyard, where a stretch of grass has lain burnt since one Wednesday in March, when a brush fire kicked up and lit the wintered grass around it. Trent ran to the house for water, but when he turned around, the flames were licking along the ground toward the wood’s edge and the shed and greenhouse and up toward the pond. I wasn’t home, but Janaya said they grabbed coolers from the garage and heaved them between the pond and the fire, sloshing dirty water and coughing on the smoke.
By the time I came around the side of the house, the fire trucks had come and gone and left the ground black and smoldering. Trent had soot down his face, and Dad had come home from work and was hosing the yard in his dress pants. They had saved the greenhouse and the gate to the pond, and only the grass had burned, praise the Lord.
Well, we stared out at burnt grass for a month. Spring greened the world all around that scarred place, only making it look more dead; but we had hope, because when Trent scorched his leg trying to stamp out fire on the grass, the fireman said, “Relax, buddy. It’ll come back.” In fact, he said we’d have a beautiful lawn in place of the burnt. My guess is that it’ll outgreen the Zoysia grass around it, because that’s the way God ordered his creation.
Things live, yes; but first, they die, and it’s never the other way around. 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).
I get confused about that, but today – on Good Friday – Jesus sets things straight. He dies.
“You lay me in the dust of death.” ~ Psalm 22:15
I wasn’t home when the yard burned, and I’ve never been at the Reserve when the woods were on fire, and I’m glad because I don’t like to watch things die. I prefer the springtime without the winter, the swaying prairie without the burns, and in my own heart, I want the resurrection life without the crucifixion death. I’m a lot like Simon Peter when Jesus warned him “that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’”
But Jesus recognized the Serpent in Peter’s voice, whispering, You will not surely die.
“[He] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Matt. 16:21-23).
When the men walking to Emmaus said they didn’t understand why Jesus had suffered in Jerusalem, he called them “foolish ones.”
“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26)
Was it not necessary that the prairie should burn? That the grass should lay charred? That you should die with him so you might live with him?
I remember sitting on the living room couch one morning in December, looking out into the grey, early light, and asking God to help me die. I’d been searching every corner for something that could bring my dry bones to life, but realized that before my lungs could fill, they first had to be emptied. Death before life, remember?
I wrote in my journal:
If I’m going to share in Christ’s rising, I first have to share in his dying, “becoming like him in his death.” That’s really the only way I’ll ever start looking like him and feeling full of him.
That’s really the only way I’ll ever “attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:11).
And so there at dawn, I asked Jesus to burn the grasses inside me. There were bad weeds, like twisted cravings and pride. But there were good plants, too, like my longings for a writing career and a home in the country. One by one, I let them burn, until all that was left was a smoky, scarred prairie— a burnt heart ready for the Great Gardener to begin his work of resurrection.
It’s April again, and when I lift the curtain to look out my window, I see the resurrection already beginning. There’s still burnt grass out back, but there are also green shoots springing toward the April sun, because even though there’s “a time to die” (Ecc. 3:2), death isn’t the end of the story. It’s the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). Green and Wonderful is on its way.
“Behold, the old has passed away, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17, emphasis added).
You and I are dying, and we may, like Paul, even die a hundred deaths every day (1 Cor. 15:31). But it’s only so we can live again.
“What you sow does not come alive unless it dies…
“It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown in a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:36, 43).
Thanks be to Jesus, the burnt patches of our hearts are already greening with the new life of a thousand daffodils. Resurrection begins today, and so this Friday is very, very good.
And now the flowers bloom like a song of freedom
Behold, the earth is new, if only for a season
And so the seed that died for you becomes the seedling
Just put your hand into the wound that bought your healing
And let your heart believe
He is not dead, He is risen
~ Andrew Peterson, “Risen Indeed”[i]
[i] Andrew Peterson, “Risen Indeed.” Resurrection Letters, Vol. I. Centricity Music, 2018: https://open.spotify.com/track/1pAISiVedmMRPX239BAqHA?si=1b1901fb0a1b432c