Planting Bulbs: Christ the King {Book Club}

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
—Hebrews 11:1

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

5 Comments

  1. Amy Young November 8, 2017

    Kimberlee, this post has stayed with me. First of all 200 bulbs! That’s a lot of bulbs. What an extravagant act of faith! You didn’t “test the waters” with a few bulbs this year to see how it goes. You didn’t start with one color or place and then move on. Instead, you sowed richly, in faith. As we near the end of ordinary time, your bulbs remind me that we are part of a story that goes on and on. We sow and maybe will reap, and maybe will not. Today I was listening to a podcasts about how the Catholics with their cathedrals learned to build things that would stand the test of time. I am challenged by this thought — how am I a part of something physical that will stand the test of time? Your bulbs play in. I”m not sure how, but these two ideas are dancing together :). Thank you, friend.

    1. K. C. Ireton November 8, 2017

      I don’t want to burst your bubble, Amy, but honesty compels me to admit that I planted 75 daffodil bulbs last year and was so delighted by them come spring that I wanted more. I fervently pray that my faith in God will grow as extravagant and lavish and rich as you made my faith in my daffodils seem to be! My dear friend Susan led a tour of some of Britain’s historic homes (you know, the big ones, like Pemberley), and she was amazed to learn that the gardeners (they didn’t call them landscape architects back then) planned the gardens to be enjoyed by future generations; they themselves would never see their own vision realized because it would take 50 years for the trees and shrubs and other plantings to reach their maturity. In many ways we seem to have lost this sense of being a blessing to future generations, of doing work that will bless not just those around us now but those who will come after us, of seeing ourselves not as the pinnacle or center of things but as one small link in a long chain of blessing, receiving gifts we do not deserve in order to pass them on to others. The grand thing is that we get to enjoy them ourselves as they pass through our hands, much as I will enjoy my daffodils in April!

      1. Amy Young November 10, 2017

        Bubble not burst :)! I still think 75 is impressive :). And what a witness and model those gardeners were (and current ones are!). Love your insights my friend!

  2. Michele November 12, 2017

    I read this Tuesday morning end shared it at a prayer meeting that afternoon. It brought out two great stories from friends who had invested a lot of time and love into young people, apparently in vain given their attitudes end choices. Both these friends had just received messages of thanks that showed softened hearts and a true desire to keep growing… Daffodils in bloom! We don’t always get to see, but those two stories this week encouraged us all that sowing is worth the risk!

    1. K. C. Ireton November 14, 2017

      Thank you for sharing your friends’ stories. It is always heartening to hear when other people’s daffodils bloom–it somehow gives me courage and stamina to wait for my own!

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