For Thine Are the Plants and the Glory Dying As Way to New Life

Scripture Reflections for Sundays in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33

I live in an ugly building. It’s a brown and teal low-rise that winds around a parking lot like a drunken staircase flipped on its side. Not surprisingly, the building was constructed in the 1960s when, apparently, creative architecture called for convoluted hallways and unmarked doors at every corner. My building is a labyrinth. Pizza delivery is a nightmare.

Fortunately, in the 1960s, someone also had the genius idea of designing each individual apartment with a six-meter wall of windows. Most tenants take advantage of the light and house endless plants on their windowsills. At dawn, when it’s still early enough to peep through living room windows and not be arrested, I stroll my dog around the building and admire the indoor greenery. The most impressive apartments have southern exposure. Their cacti and banana trees stand tall between the curtains.

I have only aloes, violets, and nameless (to me) houseplants. They die often.

Death by gardening
In John 12:20-33, Jesus explains to his perpetually perplexed disciples that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it is merely a grain of wheat. If it dies, however, it creates new life, presumably in the form of more wheat. He said this to explain his mission?that he had come to grow, die, and create new life. Indeed, Jesus came to create an entirely new order, one where earthly rulers would be driven out and rendered powerless. Jesus would be the new, universal ruler. But all this had to start with death.

It’s a scary thought. Weeks back, at church, an older woman explained how she always cries during the Stations of the Cross .

“Those nails, the cross?it breaks my heart.”

As it should. The Roman cross was a wicked way to die. Even Jesus dreaded his execution. He was human, after all. No doubt, his human instincts screamed all the way to Jerusalem.

Still, he was also divine and, as such, knew what he must do.

The blood of the pelican
As Easter approaches, I often think of the mother pelican who, legend maintains, feeds her offspring by slitting a hole in her own chest and bleeding out meals. The baby pelicans drink her blood and grow strong. Soon, they are ready to fly. As mother teaches child and child flies away, the mother pelican?weakened by her sacrifice?dies.

This is only a legend, but it raises questions. What kind of protective instinct drives an animal to care for others at her own expense? How great a love for new life does it take to love to the death?

Jesus would know. He was the ultimate sacrifice. He died to give us a freedom we, like the disciples?and baby pelicans?can barely understand.

Life by death
My plants are not so spectacular. Most of the time, in my eastern-facing windows, they wither. I water them often, talk to them, and play Mozart for their comfort. Still, leaves brown and tumble. Some days, I wonder why I keep them at all.

Then comes those mornings. Those mornings when I awake, call the dog, and gasp in surprise. My plants?my pathetic, dying plants?will have bloomed. Pink flowers, orange buds, and lime leaves; color will glow in the sunshine. Life explodes in my window. My building becomes beautiful.