PASTOR COLUMN - It may be winter, but the heather is blooming

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There is a flower that rarely will show up on anybody's list of favorites, but I must admit it is one of mine. It is not particularly showy, and it certainly isn't tall. One doesn't smell it when one walks by, but still, the same, it is one of my favorites. It is a favorite because for me it represents great promise. It is one of the earliest to bloom. In fact, if one pays attention, it has been blooming for several weeks already. This flower is the heather, a flower closely associated with the countryside of Scotland.

To be sure, the forsythia and daffodil and tulip are much showier plants, and are often thought of as the flowers that represent the promise of spring and warmer days, but for me, the heather plays that role. By the time forsythia, daffodils and tulips bloom, most of the spring cleanup of our yards has taken place and the warm sun has already come farther north. But while the days are gray, fall leaves linger in the corners, frost comes every night and the snowpack still builds, the heather blooms. When there seems to be no sign of winter giving way, the heather blooms.

A couple of years ago we had a snowier winter. I remember the snow melting away and the next day the heather began to bloom. When there seems to be no promise of summer and the days are long, the heather blooms.

Many Christians are about to begin a season of the year known as Lent. It is a season of spiritual discipline, when we especially prepare to remember both the Cross and the Resurrection. It is a season to consider God's great love for us, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

This year, Lent begins Wednesday. Some Christians will prepare for Easter by denying themselves through fasting; others will take on some spiritual exercise, such as reading Scripture; still others will give of their time in serving others.

I love heather because it seems to slowly, secretly and subtly tell me that spring and summer are coming. In the gray days and cold nights, the heather blooms.

As I travel through Lent each year, I think of my preparation the same way. As I consider the Cross and the darkness of humanity to God, I know there lies beyond it a promise of resurrection. As I deny myself some pleasure or consider the things of God more carefully, or give to others more generously, I am reminded that all this is possible because of both the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

In the next days, I hope we take opportunities to look around and see the latent promises that natures provides. The blooming heather, the swelling buds can all remind of the promise that is ahead.

In the same way, the dark days before Jesus went to the Cross have within them the promise of Resurrection. As He predicted his suffering and exaltation, as He declared "I have come, not to condemn but to save," as he said "I have bought in the Kingdom of God in all these ways the promise was given." Yet the promises were surrounded by the rejection He faced, the opposition He endured, and the misunderstanding that even those close to Him had. The promise of Christ was surrounded by so much that would try to obscure that promise. So for mem the heather is a sign of promise. Surrounded by the lingering winter, it refuses to stop blooming. Surrounded by opposition, Jesus refused to stop loving. Will we, surrounded by discouragement and suffering, injustice and indifference, continue to live out lives of promise?

The Rev. Albert Gillin is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Contact him at 509-525-1093 or by email at gillin@wwpcusa.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at catherinehicks@wwub.com.

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