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Harvest of Hope

by Catherine McNiel

For the past eight months I’ve gone out to the garden daily to harvest the fruits of the earth. At first, it was bouquet after bouquet of spring flowers - tulips and lilacs filling my garden and my home. Then it was the spring veggies, which gave way to months of summertime bounty of all kinds. If I wanted to cook a meal or make a salad, I’d grab my knife and a bowl and see what I could find. If I wanted a centerpiece on the table, I gathered bunches of the summer flowers growing around the yard. My kitchen quite literally overflowed.I loved being surrounded by all this life-giving life. I even tried to embrace the hordes of mud and bugs that came along with it.

As summer wound down into autumn, the bounty began to taper off. Instead of a kitchen chock full of over-ripe produce and fruit flies, I was scouring the garden for anything still producing - the occasional red tomato, green pepper, or yellow summer squash. Instead, the hardy autumn plants were coming into their own - pumpkins and apples waiting for harvest in the crisp October air.

But then November rolled around, and with it a hard freeze. I knew it was coming, and I knew what it would mean. Still, the next morning I found myself asking “I wonder if there are enough flowers to make a bouquet?” and “What could I find in the garden to make for lunch?” Old habits die harder than vegetables, I guess. I meandered outside and was shocked by what I saw - every single plant withered and entirely dead. Their forms, just yesterday waning but alive, were skeletal and frozen. There was no life left at all.

I wasn’t born yesterday, and this wasn’t my first Autumn. I know exactly what the terms are in life, yet they still take me by surprise, still knock the wind out of me. I stood among my raised beds literally gasping at the sudden shock and pain of encountering death where so recently we celebrated abundant life.

Death is certain reality, and we know it well. Yet don’t we all fight against it, grabbing for as much life as we can take? Life is just so very green, so very delicious and succulent. Death is so foreign, so dark, so cold, so final. My garden-grief will be short lived, but facing the deaths of our loved ones - and ultimately ourselves - is possibly the most challenging task we undertake on this earthly journey.

But God wasn’t born yesterday either, and this hasn’t been his first season of darkness. As far back as the Creation narratives in Genesis we see that the Sustainer of all things is aware of the natural boundaries placed upon life. Ancient King David sang of his certainty that even in the dark valley of death, God’s hand would be leading him with comfort and not fear. Jesus - God With Us - wept alongside his friends at the grief of a loved one’s death. And when God-Made-Man faced his own final moments, he trusted the Father enough to say “into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Furthermore, the good news which has been proclaimed since that first story in the garden is that this is God’s story, and he is determined to bring his plan to completion no matter what obstacles are thrown in his path. He has been fulfilling that promise through Creation, Abraham, Israel, and now through Jesus. Christians have always declared that after Christ’s death he descended into the grave, unlocked the shackles of death, and rose victorious in resurrection - and not for himself only, but as the first fruits of a redeemed creation.

We are cycling our way into a season of darkness and death, but not without a harvest of hope. Whether your grief today is as simple as a garden finished or as profound as a newly buried soul-mate, my prayer for you is that the light of His presence will shine warmth upon your face in this season.

Prayer: Father, thank you for going with us even through the darkest valleys. In your mercy, cover us with your hope as we wait on you in this season.

Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to the creative and redemptive work of God in our daily lives. She is striving to see beauty, learning to expand her perspective, and praying to keep her eyes and heart open. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at www.catherinemcniel.com.