When I was young I always looked forward to the autumn. Autumn was a time when the cycle of life began to start all over again. Now I know people usually like to think of spring as the season of beginnings, but for me, it was autumn. Maybe it was because in the autumn, the leaves began to turn all sorts of brilliant colors, fall from the trees and crunch under my feet as I walked along. It was like a signal to a magical time of year. Or maybe it was because it was the start of another school year, and another chance to start over making friends and finding my place in my world. But I think the most likely reason of all was that fall was a bittersweet reminder that death is the beginning of birth; that sorrow gives way to serenity, that the grave yields ultimately to new life.
Autumn had always meant saying good-bye: good-bye to the long warm days of summer, good-bye to another year of life, and good-bye to things that might have been. The sadness of autumn was something that seemed to hold me in a cold and lonely embrace, calling me to release the past and let it drift away like a fallen leaf on the wind. It pointed to the cold and dark days of winter that lay ahead and the depth of contemplation that came out of time spent inside a warm home. In some strange way it meant safety, even though it meant change. And I spent each sad autumn quietly waiting, quietly anticipating the chilling sleep of winter and the newness of spring days to come.
Jesus said in John 12:24 (NIV), “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” As I look back on the autumns of my life, I see that each small death was really a part of the ongoing mystery of growing in my relationship with my Savior. Each experience was a surrender of a part of myself in death – whether it was death to an old stuffed toy I could no longer carry around, death to the hope that my father would ever be around more than once a month because of his job changes, or death to a place to which I had grown accustomed but from which I was moving away. In all this Christ was preparing me to face the deeper death to self that was to take place in the intimacy of His entering more deeply into my life. I often wondered if each death I endured here on earth brought a tear or a smile from my Savior, or maybe even a solemn pause from the angels. With every death, more of my innocence was lost as it made way for the greater knowledge of life’s ultimate Truth.
When the time comes for us to experience that deeper death to self, it’s the day-to-day deaths we’ve experienced that enable us to bear the sorrow and the loss and allow Grace to give way to the peace of that passes understanding. You see, God has a plan for each of us: to plant us in the world of sorrow and sin and allow the pressure and pain of the soil of human living to crack open the shell of who we are so that a new birth can take place within us. Once we are broken in the soil of our struggles, we are able to reach upward toward the light of His grace and extend the branches of our souls to receive it with joy. As I look at what my life has been producing, I see the seeds of new life and hope growing within me, ready to be planted in the fertile soil of other souls tilled by the Sower of seeds.
Change is never easy. The endings that changes bring can tear at the deepest parts of who we are. They often leave us choking in the pressures of life around us, huddling in the dark of confusion and lingering in broken isolation. In our lives and our relationships we experience many transitions and transformations. Children, family and friends grow older and some move on. We put away old ways of doing things and explore new ideas as we learn what living is all about. Sometimes there is pain before joy, but when that joy comes, oh how we drink it in like the seed in the soil.
In our faith community too, we see many changes, many deaths. We say good-bye to old friends and watch as pastors and programs come and go. Through it all we experience growth. We face many autumns, which give way to springs of renewal. But if we’re faithful to the message of the grain of wheat, we come to see that death produces in our church body an abundant harvest of souls for the Sower. As the church continues to become what Christ intended it to be, we’ll experience this seed-death over and over again. We’ll see God tearing up the soil of traditions and history to make the ground fertile, and watch as He plants the seeds of change in that soil so that we may yield a harvest – thirty, sixty, or a hundred times what has been sown.
I would like to leave you with one thought. As you look back on your life and think about all the autumns you’ve experienced – whether that is today or sixty years from now – remember this. The surrender of autumn gives way to the sleep of winter and winter, to the rebirth of spring. Know always that there is ultimately one great death to which we are being called, and that is the death to sin and self. One day, we who believe will surrender to that final death and yield to the sorrowful passing through fear and pain to break through to a new beginning in eternity! May God bless you and keep you through the autumns of your lives.