One of my favorite kinds of trees is the Jack Pine. There is nothing particularly special about the Jack Pine, except that it grows in the forests of the northern tier of our state. Jack Pines are about as common as you can get.
They are not particularly regal or majestic trees. They can grow tall. But at the same time they can become kind of scraggly, as lower branches begin to die off. They actually can be a kind of an ugly pine tree.
But there is one thing really interesting about the Jack Pine. It is the way it reproduces. Like many pine trees, it has pinecones, and the seeds are found within these cones. But the Jack Pine’s cones are coated with a thick, sticky, waxy substance. So the seeds cannot escape to the ground to take root, except under one circumstance.
Extreme heat. The wax will only melt enough to release the seed when the temperature reaches 122 degrees. Then (and only then), will the wax melt and the seed drop to the ground. Do you know what that is? It’s a fire.
For the Jack Pine to reproduce, the tree needs to burn in a fire. That’s why when you see a forest or a glade of Jack Pines, all the trees are roughly the same age. It means that however many years ago, a fire burned through the area, and the trees burned, and the wax in the pine cones melted, and new seeds were dropped to the ground.
A Jack Pine can only be born, only out of death.
Our Gospel text says that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And then it goes on to say that “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
This scripture text is descriptive of the lives, the story in which we live. It is a powerful, powerful story, and we all have a part in it.
Our story is one of a natural rhythm of death and resurrection. This is the story of our world…it’s the story of God’s creation.
Sometimes I think we get confused about the point of the story.
- There are those who believe that the story is some kind of a conflict between good and evil, with the fate of our souls resting in the balance.
- There are those who believe that the story is about trying to achieve a level of righteousness, or even perfection, in order to be worthy of God’s love.
- There are those who believe that the story is about just surviving pain, in order to find happiness later.
But none of these perspectives align with our Gospel text tonight. They don’t align with our story.
In the waters of baptism, we say that we are baptized into the death of Christ, and are raised again to new life. It is in that moment, when the water is poured, that it’s just like the wax on that pinecone melting away, and opening up. In that moment, we are given this gift of God’s promises…the gift of new life. And in this season of Lent, we remember what it is to be baptized into Christ’s death and into his resurrection. We remember what it is to be made…fresh.
Now, traditionally, during Lent, people have “given something up.” Chocolate, or sweets, or something like that. When I was in college, my friends and I thought it was a big deal to give up pizza for lent. The idea is that giving something up reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice. In hindsight it seems a little silly or superficial. Giving up pizza equates to death on the cross?
But then along comes 2020. This is a different kind of Lent, isn’t it? And we’re not talking about giving up chocolate or pizza anymore. The choices have been made for us. There is nothing superficial or silly about what we’ve had to give up this Lent, is there?
Think about it: what have you had to give up for Lent this year? Relationships? Freedom to go out…to eat at restaurants…to travel where you’d like…. School…work…graduations… concerts…sports seasons…tournaments…coffee with friends…the list goes on… This Lent, I feel a lot like that wax covered pinecone, and the temperature is going up.
This is a Lent I will remember. Because this Lent there are hopes, and ideas and wishes, and dreams that I’ve had to let go of.
But here’s what I…and you…need to remember: As people who follow Jesus…as people of the story…we know that there is an Easter. There is the promise of a resurrection. Jesus was raised from the dead, and because he lives, we too shall live. Lent is the season when the wax melts. But on Easter, the seed hits the ground and all things are made new.
We are all a part of this story. It is a powerful story. It is a deep story.
- And it is a story that ends not in death, but in new life.
- It is a story that ends not with a waxy pinecone, but with a seed from which shoots up a new tree.
- It is a story that ends not with Lent, but with Easter.
- It is a story that ends not with a virus and quarantine, but with freedom and joy, and maybe a new and different lens on life.
- It is a story that ends with a resurrected Savior. Jesus, who is Christ, the Lord.
That is your story. And all of you…each one of you…has a role to play within it.
Thanks be to God!