Finally, the scales of meteorological justice have tipped in our favor. After doing hard (and cold) time through January, February, and a lingering section of March, springtime has finally shown up to unlock our cell doors and usher us back outside. I feel a little like an ex-con, exhilarated by the freedom of fresh air, and sunshine, but also aware of the challenging nature of the work that lies ahead of me.
During the course of winter, I would catch an occasional glance as I dashed between house, and garbage cans, or car and front door…a pile of leaves here, a fence that needs repairing over there. But the frigid weather had a way of shaking those images from my consciousness. With the onset of several gorgeous days in a row, my wintertime excuses have all melted. It is officially time to tend my garden.
When the weather is cold, I am able to masquerade as a prudent and humane farmer, unwilling to subject defenseless pea and spinach plants to hypothermia. But here we are, after a week of nearly perfect, San Diego-like summertime temperatures, and my garden sits fallow like a November cornfield. The bones of once-fertile herb and vegetable plants occasionally poke through the detritus of brown maple leaves like exposed fossils in the Serengeti Desert.
Soon, I must plunge into this fenced off wasteland with rake, shovel, and hoe. Due to my procrastination, enthusiastic young weeds have already begun their summer-long competition with the soon-to-be-planted green beans, tomatoes, and herbs. Each time I pass by our little vegetable graveyard, it is difficult to believe that this fenced off plot could become our family’s produce stand. It is hard to summon up so much as a seed’s worth of motivation to begin the process.
I wonder if that is precisely how Peter felt in this Sunday’s Gospel passage (John 21: 1-19). In the chronology of John’s resurrection accounts, Peter would have known that Jesus had risen from the dead by the time this story occurred. But nonetheless, at the outset of this selection, the reader can feel a lingering winter-time inside Peter and his fishing buddies. Right in the midst of the sunshine of that first Easter Season, the cold, winter of Good Friday still yo-yoed back into Peter’s consciousness. The desolation of Good Friday, with the adoring crowd turned lynch mob, and his own denials would continue to blow into his mind and heart. Jesus may have risen, but the landscape of the future must have still appeared as bleak as an untended garden.
As a counselor, I know that for so many, winter winds still blow, despite the readings on the thermometer. The unseasonable coldness of diagnoses, or deaths of those we held dear, have made many of our gardens appear inhospitable to a new spring of growth. Relationships that have sat dormant for what feels like an impossibly long, cold, lonely winter seem beyond the reach of springtime and rebirth. Despite what the sunny prognosticators of Wall Street have to say, mounting bills, and lack of work have a way of coloring things a shade of winter gray.
This Sunday’s Gospel provided important clues about making room for Easter new life when the winter wind refuses to leave on time. On the shores of a Galilean morning lakeside, after the wintery desolation of the cross and three denials, Peter was asked to render a three-fold confession of his love. Just after this healing repartee, Jesus simply said, “Follow me.” He did not provide a detailed plan for the formulation and leadership of a church. His words were the equivalent of placing a shovel, and a rake into Peter’s hands and saying, “Get Busy.” Sometimes answering the call to “Follow me,” involves a choice to simply get going, one footfall-at-a-time, one shovel full at-a-time. It involves placing one foot in front of the other.
This summer, as guests take a succulent bite of the glory of one of my fresh tomatoes, only I will know that this harvest was directly related to the initial decision to step into the garden and get busy when I didn’t feel like it. Some years, a harvest of Easter joy is dependent upon taking that first step into the garden, and methodically getting busy with the steps it takes to produce new life…even when it still feels a little cold and a little bit like winter inside.