“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Last month I spent three afternoons planting 200 daffodil bulbs in my yard.
Daffodil bulbs don’t look like much. They’re brown and a bit wrinkled. Looking at them you’d never be able to tell that they were going to sprout into green shoots and yellow or white fluted flowers.
And burying these hard, brown, wrinkled knobs in six inches of dirt isn’t exactly intuitive, either. Why would you bury something if you want it to grow? Wouldn’t it be better to put it out in the light and the air?
But when it comes to plants, I don’t trust my own instincts. I trust the nurserymen and women. And they say to bury these bulbs in six inches of well-drained soil before the first frost. They say that if I do, come March or April, these wrinkly, brown, buried blobs will sprout and flower and fill my yard with color and a bit of fragrance.
And despite the evidence of my senses, I believe them. I believe that these knobby little bulbs buried in the ground will in fact grow into daffodils. I believe it so utterly that I gave three afternoons of my life to planting them. I have absolute faith that those bulbs are going to bloom come spring and my yard will be a mass of yellow and white flowers.
Why do I believe this so wholeheartedly? Why am I willing to spend three afternoons with a shovel and a trowel, clearing grass and weeds and digging holes? In the rain, no less.
Well, I believe it because I’ve seen daffodils before, and I know they’re beautiful. I believe it because I’ve planted daffodil bulbs before, and those inauspicious knobs did in fact grow into the very flowers promised on the label. I believe it because I have lived through 41 winters, and spring has always followed. Every single year.
For all these reasons, I have faith that those bulbs will blossom. Faith, as the writer to the Hebrews says, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. I hope for those daffodils to bloom, and I have full assurance that they will.
Now, it’s possible they won’t. I could have ordered from an unscrupulous bulb supplier who boiled the bulbs, so they won’t sprout. Maybe the squirrels will run out of other food and get so desperately hungry they’ll stoop to eating daffodil bulbs. Or maybe this is the first year in my life that there will be no spring: maybe gravity will fail, and the earth will fall into the sun; or maybe the earth will be hit by an asteroid.
All those things are within the realm of possibility. And yet I do not worry about them at all. I still believe spring will come and my bulbs will bloom. More, I am convinced that these flowers I cannot see, except in my imagination, will become reality; that even now, though I cannot see it, they are stirring into life in the earth.
That’s the conviction of things not seen. That’s faith.
It’s the same sort of faith that we celebrate this month as the church year draws to a close. The last Sunday of the church year (November 26 this year) is the celebration of Christ the King, when our Risen Lord will return at the end of history, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, and He shall reign forever and ever. The last Sunday of the church year gives us a glimpse of this future reality.
Where I live, the celebration of Christ the King coincides perfectly with the last of the fall leaves blowing to the ground and the trees stretching their now bare and barren branches to the gray sky. I love that right in the middle of this bleak outer landscape, Christ the King comes, for it is the Sunday of the year when we plant our bulbs, so to speak, when we look at the brown barren landscape of fall-turning-to-winter and proclaim our faith in the return of spring.
Regardless of where you live in the world, whether the landscape of your locale is bleak like mine is, or whether it’s a tropical paradise year-round, all of us live our lives in that space of fall-turning-to-winter, watching things and people we love die, letting go of the warmth and beauty of summer and its dreams. Slowly, inevitably, all our lives are turning toward winter and our final breath after which we, like those bulbs, will be buried in the earth.
Christ the King Sunday proclaims that appearances notwithstanding death does not have the final word. It reminds us that life is stirring beneath the cold, bare ground, that the work begun at creation and continued in the Incarnation, death, and Resurrection of Our Lord, will come to fruition in the fullness of time. It proclaims that one day every tear will be wiped from every eye, and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. It concludes the church year with a ringing affirmation of faith that Christ, who has died and risen, will come again and will raise us up with Him.
The feast of Christ the King, therefore, puts the whole rest of the church year into perspective. By showing us the end of the story, it assures us of the things we hope for and so gives us courage to live in the present with faith, planting our little seeds and odd-looking bulbs, because we know that Christ the King will bring all our faithful efforts to flower and fruit in His good time, in ways that we can now only dimly imagine.
When the world around us proclaims death, destruction, entropy, dissolution, Christ the King proclaims life, creation, love, shalom. Christ the King promises that the very worst things in our life and in the life of this world are the very places where He will triumph victoriously. The very death and decay that we deplore are the raw ingredients out of which He will fashion—indeed, is even now fashioning—life and glory. That is His business, to transform all that is ugly and evil into means of grace, to take sin and shame upon Himself, into Himself, and transmogrify them in the furnace of His holy, creative love, burning up all that would separate us from Him and bringing life out of death, joy out of sorrow, beauty out of ashes.
He is, after all, Christ the King, and nothing is impossible for Him.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Next week: Facing Danger: A Guide Through Risk by Dr Anna E Hampton Chapters 9 and 10