I like houseplants, but don’t have much of a green thumb. I am amazed by people who seem to know things about plants. Things like the fact that plants “eat” their dirt (use up the nutrients) and need to be replanted every so often, or how people know which plants need which kind of sunlight to prosper.
Once we were having dinner with a friend of ours at our home and he noticed a scraggly plant I had on my porch. I told him that when I had gotten it, it had lots of blooms, but the flowers had all but disappeared in the last year. He told me to cut it all the way down to the base and it would flourish. That seemed ridiculous to me, but I figured what did I have to lose? Besides, my friend does know a lot more about plants than I do. So I cut the heck out of the poor thing and waited. After a few weeks, some green appeared. Now it has come back to life, with lots of healthy leaves abounding.
In the spiritual life, Lent is a time of pruning, of cutting off the dead branches, and even some that may appear to be doing okay. We do this not for its own sake, but so that we might become more fruitful. Easter, then, is a time of that new life and growth- the first appearance of the healthy green sprouts. It is a season of new life.
I have been reflecting on this since the Easter season began, since for me the temptation of Easter Sunday is to say, “Whew! Glad that Lent stuff is over! Pass the jelly beans!” In the past I have viewed Lent as the period of deprivation and Easter as a time to pig out and make up for lost time. I don’t think this is what God intended for this holiest of seasons. How, then, should we understand it?
To try and think through it, let’s go back to the first Easter season. The Apostles are gathered in the upper room, filled with fear for their lives, shame for their abandonment of Jesus, confusion over what they expected Jesus’ mission to be. For John and the women who stood at the foot of the Cross, the image of Jesus’ last agonizing hours is seared into their memories.
Then in bursts Mary Magdalene with a message too amazing to be true: Jesus is alive. Then Jesus appears to his Apostles in the upper room, to his disciples on the road to Emmaus, to a few on the beach after a night of fishing, and according to St. Luke, Jesus continued to show up and teach the Apostles about the Kingdom of God for the next 40 days (Acts 1:3).
For the first followers of Jesus, the period following Easter Sunday was a time of new growth. The expectations the disciples had of what Jesus would do were cut down to the ground on Good Friday and now Jesus was reminding them of what they had learned before, but nowon in light of the Resurrection. During this graced time of Easter, the apostles were little green sprouts. This growth was not instantaneous by any means. There is a good indication that even as Jesus is about to ascend to the Father that they still don’t quite get it: “Lord, is it now that you will return the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Here I have to imagine Jesus shaking his head thinking, “Really? Okay, never mind. Just wait for the Holy Spirit!”.
What is the implication for us? First, it does us great good to remember that new growth is extremely fragile and needs to be cared for accordingly. Do you allow your dog to trample through your newly sprouting grass? Of course not. What about a new baby: do you toss him up in the air like you would a 2 year old? No way! Likewise, we need to allow Jesus to do for us during this season what he did for the Apostles: remind us of what we had heard before in light of the Resurrection.
So, although we should heartily rejoice and celebrate the new life of Christ during Easter, we should not do so by simply returning to all our old patterns of life. Hopefully, if we fasted from vices, the opposite virtue has taken root. If we fasted from a good thing, maybe more order has started to grow in our desires. If we gave of our time and money, our hearts have grown bigger and more generous. Whatever our Lenten observances, if they were done with a sincere heart, they have produced spiritual fruit. Our job now during the Easter season is to allow Jesus to water and fertilize that new growth. Easter should not be the end of spiritual vigilance, but the beginning!
So, as we continue through this Easter season, let’s ask Jesus what new thing he has planted in our hearts, and ask him for the grace to cooperate with him in caring for that new growth, that it might grow to be a tree strong and full of fruit for the Kingdom.
Copyright 2010 Libby DuPont