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November 29, 2003
Ordinarily, it is Friday's eMo that meditates on the texts for the upcoming Sunday. Somehow, though, I got involved in cleaning the kitchen after Thanksgiving, and things went downhill from there. Today is Saturday -- better late than never. As always, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution, and no further permission is necessary.


Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already coming near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
Luke 21:30-31

Such terrible things, foretelling the arrival of the Messiah: high seas, splitting mountains, distress of nations, people full of foreboding. Like a person reading a medical text and discerning in himself the symptoms of every disease he finds therein, each age has looked with dread at its own sorrows as it read these texts, and thought "This means us, personally, right now."

But the image Jesus uses to talk about the coming Messiah is an image of summer, not of winter. An image of beginning, not of ending. You can see, when the trees begin to show their leaves, that summer is coming. As violent an end as our projects may have here on the earth, the process in which we are involved is one of life. We are not dying. We're being born.

The budding of a tree is a more violent process than we think -- we are so excited about spring coming that we don't notice how painful the buds of leaves can look at first. They poke their way through the carapace of bark that covers and protects the branch. They swell under the bark, which thins and softens in response to the pressure. They create blisters on the branch, stretched tight to contain the growing bud within. And then they burst through it. Sometimes they are red as blood, inflamed-looking. They line each branch, and we look up at them and see them as almost flowers. Then they, too, are forced off the branch by the green leaf-bundle underneath them, and for a few days the gutters are full of red buds. And then the growing season begins: bright, light green leaves unfurl at last, bearing within themselves the pattern of growth and darkening, set to grow larger and turn a deeper green, breathing in water and air and giving growth, until the time comes for them to burst into one last spasm of brilliance and then drop to the ground in their fiery death.

Oh, the beginnings and endings of things! If we knew how fierce it all was, we would never make a start. Our mothers' wombs would be crowded with babies unwilling to leave, our gardens with seed unwilling to burst apart and set free the tiny green within. And so we are kept in ignorance, and in the valor with which only ignorance can endow us, we stride forth. We don't learn the truth until it's too late to turn back.

And here is Jesus, talking about summer leaves. Don't be afraid, he says, fearsome as it all is. There is a hand guiding you. Your progress is certain if you keep walking, for you do not walk alone. Many have made this walk; look to their experience and learn from it. I have made this walk; trust me.
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