It has been famously said (a polite way of saying that “it” has been attributed so many people we don’t know who originally said it) that “The world does not lack for wonders, only for a sense of wonder.” Those words danced through my mind last week as I walked out of an evening gathering in downtown Chicago and saw the light from the streetlamps catching thousands of falling snowflakes, turning each one into its own brief moment of shimmering beauty.
Yes, I’m writing this in the final week of April and, yes, there was great murmuring and agitation, even among my companions on the night in question, that we were having yet another April snow storm. Spring 2018 has been elusive at best—just ask the daffodils. By this time we should have trees in full leaf and Spring-blooming trees in flower. We should be able to wear light jackets (if any at all) and should have been out raking the winter debris off our flower beds, mapping out where the ageratum were going to be planted this year. Snow? More snow? Really? REALLY? But all I could do at that moment was stare—transfixed by what was happening just over our heads—as God interrupted the “normal” expectations of life on an April night in the Midwestern U.S. to shimmer on us a little heavenly joy.
M. Craig Barnes has written,
Either we believe life is something that must be achieved, or we believe is something that can only be received. Once we start seeing this choice in the Bible, we find it on almost every page. Is God the Creator, or are we? Is Jesus the Savior, or are we? Does the Holy Spirit give wisdom, or are we smart enough on our own? We’ve got to choose. The Bible cautions us to choose carefully. (from When God Interrupts: Finding New Life Through Unwanted Change)
As you’ve guessed, this is about far more than late season snowflakes. We have a tendency to squander the amazing wonders God offers us—including snowflakes in the night sky and even a risen Savior.
Followers of Jesus held our annual observance of the event that reshaped cosmic history just a few brief weeks ago. Yawn. Stretch. Done. Already we are on to other urgent things like Earth Day, National Penguin Day, Mother’s Day, final exams, and “Where are you guys going on your summer vacation?” Think what we’re missing if we bounce on from Easter too quickly: the marvel, the wonder, the “shimmer” of the Resurrection in the night sky of our over-stimulated, over-medicated, under-appreciated, self-obsessed world.
The “achievers” among us were off and running by the end of the postlude on Easter morning. “Another great Holy Week—another beautiful Easter—I LOVE this church! Gotta run now or we’ll be late to brunch!” Indeed. And yet we sing words like these:
Christ is risen! Shout hosanna! Celebrate this day of days!
Christ is risen! Hush in wonder; all creation stands amazed.
In the desert, all surrounding, see, a spreading tree has grown.
Healing leaves of grace abounding bring a taste of love unknown.
— Brian Wren, Lift Up Your Hearts #204
It takes focus to hush in wonder and stand amazed. It takes time to notice when a spreading tree has grown. It really takes time to savor Love. This is a challenge for us 21st century earth dwellers. We have places to be and things to accomplish. We’re behind on several things and feeling guilty for not taking on more. We’re anxious about much, confused about much, and frustrated in varying degrees at ourselves, our families, and our world. Days roll into weeks, roll into months, and we celebrate when the calendar tells us to. But occasionally the snowflakes fall late in the season and we can can’t help but stop if only for a moment—and experience a bit of wonder at an unexpected gift.
The Resurrection is a gift waiting to be received. It is the haunting biblical truth behind all the hoopla of Easter Sunday—the wind of the Holy Spirit that blows through the trumpets and the organ pipes. It is the completion of the Law and the crystallization of the gospel. There is unspeakable wonder from the astonished women at the tomb, to the reinstatement of defeated disciples, to the mocking of death by a converted Paul. The Resurrection is the amalgamation of “all” the “blessings” that “flow” from the “God” we “praise.”
And yet—Easter can sometimes become more about the celebration we design than it is about the One we celebrate.
What would happen if, next year, we celebrated a very quiet Easter—a breathtakingly beautiful liturgy filled with wonder and awe at the amazing thing God has done—a gift that can only be received? God is the creator—of all things seen and unseen. Jesus is the Savior—begotten of the Father before all worlds, …who for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven. The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life.
So many wonders if we will only have the sense to wonder—if we will only stand still in the cold night of our earthly existence and notice the way the that even the feeble lights of earth electrify the shimmer of God’s out-of-season surprises.