A river runs through my city. And on the main riverfront there’s a tree. Actually, there are many trees along the riverfront, and they’re mostly palm trees. Palm trees grow everywhere in the tropics. And while they are stunningly beautiful, palm trees don’t grow very large.
But there’s a tree on the riverfront that dwarfs all the palm trees. It’s the biggest and greenest tree around, and it’s planted on the banks of the river right where raw sewage is discharged. My city’s waste rushes thick, black, and odorous right into the river where the tourists walk by.
The first time I noticed this, I was struck by the sight. How could two such unlikely things come together like this? An enormous, thriving tree and an ugly, smelly, polluting flow of refuse? I couldn’t stop looking at it. I couldn’t stop gazing and pondering: a tree full of life next to a stream of death.
This riverside tree became, to me, a symbol for Resurrection. For the ability and tendency of God to take garbage, to take death, and to make new life out of it, to make beauty out of it.
Life comes from death. We know this is true. It’s what manure is for crops: fertilizer for the ground, a re-using of old, leftover nutrients to help the new seed burst forth into life and into new sustaining power. A tree as big as the one I saw needs an extensive root system to support it. But its root system can only grow that large if it can reach down and grab enough dead things, that it may turn those dead things into life.
Life comes from death. It has always been this way. This is why the fishing waters off the coast of Ecuador have historically been some of the richest in the world. Equatorial trade winds consistently blow the surface waters away from the land, toward those of us here in Asia. This continual skimming off of the top layer forces detritus, or dead things, up from the bottom of the South American ocean floor, thus providing a constant source of nutrient-sustaining life.
Life comes from death. And it gives us hope. It’s why we can sing along with Bethel: “Things that we thought were dead are breathing in life again; You cause your Son to shine on darkest nights.”
God meets us in the wreckage of our lives. That’s where He sees our lost dreams and scattered hopes and where we see our dire need. It’s where God picks up the broken pieces of the world we attempted to build for ourselves and rebuilds them into something better.
God does his best work in Death. Remember: Jesus was dead. Until the Resurrection. The best news ever is God bringing life out of death. What He did for Jesus, He will do for you too, for God is in the business of making dead things alive again.
The deadest thing in your life, that thing you’re most ashamed of, your biggest mistakes and your biggest sins, the addictive behaviors you can’t shake, the depression and fear that keep you immobilized, the place you most need grace, the deadest, dirtiest, messiest, muckiest thing in your life, that is where God is going to do his best work in you. The part of your life you’re afraid to reveal to anybody, that’s the thing He most wants to redeem. That’s the place He’s going to grow new life in you.
That’s resurrection. Just like a plant takes manure and transforms it into harvest, just like the ocean takes fish corpses and transforms them into a brand new catch, just like the God of the universe takes a cursed Roman cross and transforms it into a message of grace and hope, that same God will take the dirt and mud of your life and transform it into something good and fresh and new. I dare you to believe it.