I love visiting North America in the fall. I love the fall colours. My cousin was in between chemotherapy rounds and insisted on driving us out into the country to do some apple picking. In half an hour we were in an orchard outside of Toronto.
It was a cloudy day. The orchard was in a forested area. It was misty. It was quiet except for the periodic caws of some crows in the distance. The trees were ablaze with the colours of fall. The beauty was palpable. The moment was sacred.
Autumn is beautiful. But autumn is also the prelude to winter. In a few days the rains and the wind will come and the leaves will fall and die. The leaves were going out in a blaze of glory.
So why the celebration? Why the joyous colours in the face of death? Nothing here of the sombre black and white that we normally associate with death. Instead creation goes into death with brilliant colours, with shouts of joy and celebration. Cheeky even. Why?
Perhaps creation knows there is a spring ahead, after winter, that there is life after death, that indeed the path to life lies through death. Here the book of creation helps illustrate the book of Scripture. When the Creator came to us He told us:
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.
(John 12: 23b-26 NLTse)
The writer of Hebrews describes this wonderful salvation in this way:
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
(Hebrews 2:14-15 NLTse)
Of course one can ask why there should be death at all. The answer is that humankind sinned and death entered the world (Genesis 2:15-17). We cannot turn the clock back. Sin introduced death into human experience. Sin introduced death into the created order.
But the Lord of life had another move to make. Death was not the last word. Through the Cross, God redeemed death and made it the pathway to life. Indeed Paul would argue that physical death is necessary for us to inherit life in its fullest. In 2 Corinthians 5, he writes:
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.
While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.
God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy
Spirit. (Vs. 1-5 NLTse)
In many ways, death is the primary question of life. Death comes to all of us, and asks, “is there anything after death?” Which is really asking, “Does life have any true purpose?” Is meaning just an illusion? Are we just molecules that disassemble after we die? Or is there something more?
We had to stop in London on the way back to Singapore. Had enough time to take in a quick visit to the British museum. We wanted to visit an exhibition of terra cotta warriors from China. Found out we had to pay to see that exhibit and that they were all out of tickets. And so we wandered through the ancient Greek and Roman exhibits. We were reminded that the ancient Greeks and Romans lived in constant fear of death and that their religions gave little assurance as to what happens after death.
>From Europe to Asia, moderns and ancients alike are confronted with the same question: “After death, what?” Jesus answers:
Jesus told her (Martha), “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
(John 11:25-26 NLTse)
Jesus poses the same question to each of us. He asks as one who died and rose again, so that we would have every reason to believe. But just in case we are not sure, look at the leaves of fall. They know.