The Season of Spring – Charles E. Jefferson (historic sermon 1860-1937)
“He is not here. For he has risen.” Matt. 28:6
I want to think with you in this sermon about Spring. I have chosen this topic because everybody for the last three months has been talking about Spring. They have been talking about her in the South and also in New England, and also as far west as Ohio. The whole nation, so far as I know, has made Spring the subject of its daily conversation. People have been talking about Spring, not because she is beautiful or wonderful, but because she is so late. We expected the Spring to arrive at a certain date, and when she did not come we were disappointed. We looked at the clock and saw that Spring was due, but when we looked out of the window and saw that Spring had not arrived, we were more or less provoked. We had the disposition of a school-teacher; we treated Spring as though she were our pupil, and we were nettled because the pupil was tardy. We do not like Spring when she is dilatory. Moreover, when Spring comes late, It upsets our plans.
We had made up our mind about when the furnace-fire should go out. Spring did not come and so we had to keep the furnace-fire in. The gardener got out his implements ready to go to work, waiting for Spring to give a signal, and when Spring gave no signal the gardener had to go In and sit down by the fire again. The farmer got out his plough and wanted to go to work. He waited for Spring to blow her whistle, but the whistle ‘did not blow, and all the farm operations were retarded. Nobody likes Spring to be late.
Moreover, Spring has been so peculiar. She did not seem to have arrived at all she came with snowflakes in her hair. We have our ideal as to what Spring ought to be, and when she does not measure up to our expectations, we feel that we have been mistreated. We carry in our mind the pattern of what Spring ought to be, and when she arrives, cut after a different pattern, we fall into a faultfinding mood. “We” are very free in our criticisms, and we do not hesitate to condemn the seasons. But Spring is here, full-orbed and full-toned, and so we say to her, “All hail!”
What a mystery it is that we have any Spring at all. We are surprised that Spring was late. What a surprise we should have had if Spring had stayed away indefinitely! There are many human beings who have never seen Spring. There are men and women in the Arctic and the Antarctic regions who have never known what Spring is. They have had Winter all the time. They have had nothing but ice and snow every day, of every week, of every month, of every year. That is all they have known from babyhood. That is all they will ever know until they close their eyes in death. There are people in the Tropics who have never known anything but Summer flowers and birds every day of the year from the first day of their life to the last. Think of a summer extending through a million years, fragrant, beautiful, musical all the time! There are other human beings who enjoy two seasons, Winter and Summer!
But we fortunate mortals who live in the temperate zone are permitted to make use of four seasons. We are millionaires when it comes to seasons. We have all the wealth there is. No human beings, anywhere upon this planet, have more seasons than you and I enjoy. Indeed, it is difficult to know how we could use more than we have four. Our mind is so constructed that it does not easily think of what a fifth season would be like. For instance: if the fifth season should arrive, what should we call it? What excitement there would be when all the magazines offered five-hundred-dollar prizes for the best name to give to the new arrival! The name of a new season would be far more interesting and exciting than naming a new baby. And after we had named the new season, what would we do with It? We have already all the seasons that It is possible for us to use. If God should thrust a fifth season on us it would only be an element of confusion. It would necessitate a reconstruction of our dressmaking establishments, and upset the whole world in innumerable ways. But there is no likelihood that God will add to the number of the seasons. The number is complete, and that number is four.
There are just as many seasons as there are Gospels in the New Testament. It is hard to see what we should do if there were five. We could not possibly dispense with one of the four. If a reporter should steal two of them away we would protest; if some one should take three of them we should cry out in pain. We would all feel like paupers if we had but a single Gospel. Because we are in possession of all four, our joy is complete. Why should we not think of the seasons as so many gospels? Why should we not say, sometimes, to ourselves “the good tidings according to Summer!” “the good news of Christ according to Autumn!” “the good news of the heavenly Father according to Winter?” The four seasons are so many evangelists and all of them convey a message from the heart of God.
The Spring is a miracle. When you go to the dictionary in search of a definition of a miracle you are told that it is an event which cannot be accounted for by the known forces of Nature. Well, Spring is an event which cannot be accounted for by any of the known forces of Nature. When I was a school-teacher years ago, I used to take great delight in telling the boys and girls in the High School just how it happened that we have four different seasons. I told them that it was due to the varying of the inclination of the earth’s axis of rotation to the plane of the ecliptic. I took great satisfaction in giving my pupils this information for I felt sure it would explain to them quite fully the cause of Spring, Yet, after all, what does that learned jargon say to you? Does that explain the glory of Spring? The scientists declare that Spring is due to the angle at which the rays of the sun strike the earth. When the sunbeams strike the earth quite obliquely we have Winter; when the sunbeams strike the earth quite vertically we have Summer; when the sunbeams strike the earth somewhere between the angle of the sunbeams in Winter and the angle of the sunbeams in Summer, then, we have Autumn or Spring.
But you cannot account for the Spring by measuring the angle at which the sunbeams strike the earth. The sunbeams fall upon the earth at a certain angle and the earth suddenly grows green. Why should it grow green? How do you account for that? You say it is because the angle is what it is. Well, let the angle be what it was, and let the same sunbeams fall upon a tree, and the tree grows white, let them fall upon another tree and that tree grows pink, and let them fall upon another tree and that tree grows red. What a miracle that is! Let the same rays fall, at the same angle, upon a bush and the bush grows beautiful, but has no fragrance. Let the same rays fall upon another bush and the bush has beauty and perfume also. What a mystery that is! Now let the same sunbeams fall upon the back of a bird, and the bird sings. What a miracle that is! Will you allow me to suggest a definition of the Spring: It is a vast complex of tiny grass-blades, blossoms, fragrances, bird-notes all caught and held in a mesh of sunbeams. Only God Almighty can create beautiful things like that. It may be that some one who reads these lines has been in the habit of turning tip his nose at the miracles recorded in the New Testament. If you find those miracles incredible then close the new Bible and look at the miracles recorded in the old Bible. There is no miracle recorded in the New Testament half so amazing, so inexplicable, so wonderful as the miracle of Spring!
Spring is a miracle of beauty. She is associated in all our minds with the beautiful. The poets have been singing about Spring for a thousand years. Indeed there is a peculiar style of poetry which is known everywhere as Spring poetry. To be sure, all the seasons of the year are beautiful, but Spring has a beauty which is unique. She has a different beauty from that of Autumn, or Summer. There is a delicacy of tint and a subtlety of shadow and a freshness of loveliness in Spring which we find in no other season of the year. There is a certain sparkle and jubilance and rush of life in Spring which the other seasons do not know. Where does all this beauty come from? It comes from God, and therefore God must be an artist, God is a lover of the beautiful and the creator of it Do you ever think of God as an artist? Do you ever pray to Him as to an artist? One of the reasons why we do not love Him more is because we have such narrow notions of Him
John Piske in his little volume entitled The Idea of God tells us about his idea of the Almighty when he was a boy five years old. God, he thought, lived in a narrow office in which there was a standing desk. On the desk there were a number of ledgers bound in coarse leather, God was tall and slender and He wore spectacles. There was a pen over one of His ears. He also held a pen in His fingers. By His side there stood an attendant angel who also was busy writing. The walls of the office were rather low so that God and the angel could look over these walls and take note of what all men and women and boys and girls were doing. Everything that was done was entered in one of these ledgers, and little John FIske knew that God was writing down things about him which would face him at the Judgment Day. I fear there are many people well advanced in years who have never got very far beyond that conception of the Almighty. There are multitudes who retain the conception held by Michelangelo, that God is a mighty Judge, seated on a throne hurling thunderbolts at rebellious sinners.
Of course it is impossible for one to speak with gladness to the God of John Fiske’s Imagination, or to the God of the great Italian painter. Why not think of God, now and then, as a poet? Mrs. Browning was right when she said: “God Himself is the great poet, and “the real is His song.” We have no difficulty in believing that God teaches the birds to sing; why should it be difficult for us to believe that it is God who teaches poets to sing? Tennyson says:
“I do but sing because I must,
And pipe but as the linnets sing!”
Alexander Pope says: “I Hoped in numbers, for the numbers came.” There would be no poetry on the earth if there were no poetry in the heart of the Eternal Corot painted his landscapes because God is a painter, and Turner painted his sunsets because God, from the beginning of the world, had painted sunsets. God is the Great Musician, the universe is an organ with ten thousand keys, and God brings music from every key. God, too, is an architect. What is Spring but am enchanted palace on whose walls are hung lovely pictures and through whose corridors there flow delicious odors? It is a palace that goes up without the sound of a hammer. It is a palace which only the Infinite can build. It Is the Palace Beautiful. It is an interesting fact that John, on Patmos, when he wished to symbolize humanity perfected, transfigured by the indwelling glory of God, made use of a girl dressed for her wedding. It is also interesting that Botticelli, when he wished to symbolize Spring, made use of a girl with blossoms round her neck and in her hair. The whole world agrees that Spring is beautiful.
Spring is likewise a miracle of power. In none of the battles of the Great War were such tremendous forces exhibited as are exhibited in the Spring. The earth dies every winter. For months it lies stiff and cold. When it is in this condition it is impossible to bring it back to life again. We are wonderful beings and we are capable of making use of tremendous forces. We can manufacture great things from the furnace, but it is not possible for us to kindle fires enough to create Spring in December. Every winter the Hudson River valley lies in a great sarcophagus- absolutely dead. There is not heat enough in all the furnaces of the world to bring the Hudson River valley back to life until One higher up speaks the word. When Lazarus lay within the tomb he made no response to the weeping of his sister Martha, nor did he pay attention to Mary’s piteous appeal. It was only when an Omnipotent Voice cried: “Come forth!” that the dead man rose again.
In Winter this earth of ours dies, and for a long time it lies motionless and silent, and then One who is Invisible says: “Come forth!” and the dead earth rises in glory. There are people who are sorely troubled by the story of the Resurrection, as recorded in the New Testament. I hardly see why any one should be troubled by a story such as that. It is indeed wonderful, but it is not a whit more wonderful than the rising of the earth in Spring. Spring is the angel of the Resurrection. When Spring blows her trumpet the dead earth stands upon its feet and sings.
I recently attended the funeral service of a dear friend of mine. The day was almost ideal. The windows were open and the air was fragrant. In the chapel and out of it there were flowers. I. found myself in the midst of a flower-garden, and it was easy to say: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Who could doubt the fact of the Resurrection in the month of May!
Spring is a revelation of God’s love. It reminds us of the breadth of His generosity. Jesus, one day, in a discourse to Galilean peasants asked them fo note how the sunbeams fell upon the evil and the good, and how the rain descended upon the just and the unjust These phenomena of the natural world symbolize the breadth of God’s eternal mercy. Spring is constantly reminding us that God is no respecter of persons and that He has a generous heart He pours out the beauty of Spring without stint upon us, and He pours it out upon every one. When you ride along the roads in Spring you pass mansions of the rich, and you also pass little cottages of humble farmers, and you notice that into the front yard of the humblest cottage, Spring has found its way. This beautiful servant of the Most High visits the rich and the poor alike. There is no one so poor or so humble that he cannot enjoy the fragrance of Spring.
Spring also symbolizes God’s unchanging love. The pictures which God paints do not fade. Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper is a wreck, and so, also, is his celebrated Mona Lisa. The most exquisite things which Leonardo da Vinci painted into that face have been scrubbed out by the hands of chemicals. Rembrandt’s Night Watch is a wreck, and so, also, is Titian’s famous Assumption. So, also, is Correggio’s Holy Night. The masterpieces of the great masters all are faded. Titian’s reds are becoming dark, and his yellows are becoming white. Even Turner’s skies are becoming lemon-yellow and chalky- white. Munkacsy, who painted only yesterday, has left pictures which are already growing rapidly black. God is the only Master whose masterpieces are fadeless. The colors of Spring in this year of grace are as fresh and beautiful as were the colors in the first Spring that ever greeted the eye, and down through all the ages we are sure of this that Spring will be no less beautiful than what it has been from the beginning, From everlasting to everlasting, God is God, He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
I must not close this sermon without reminding you of Decoration Day, a day on which we think of our heroic dead. It is fitting that Memorial Day should be a day in Spring, and it is also fortunate that it should be a Spring day located close up to the door of Summer. Decoration Day has on it the freshness and the bloom of Spring. It stands at the threshold of Summer amid the blossoms and the bird-notes and the fragrances of Spring at her climax. It is easier to say of the dead now than at any other season of the year: “They are not here, they are risen!”
Sources: Spring Season artwork courtesy Nadia Sanowar – https://www.facebook.com/n.sanowar