I write this article stealing glances at a pillar of our porch where two birds flit in and out where a nest once resided. It makes me sad. And it gives me hope.
You should know that we feel a certain kinship with these birds. We admire their pluck, and we feel that we helped them out a little bit. You see, most of the porch pillar is engaged in holding up the porch roof. There is only a small surface left to hold a nest. About a year ago we looked on bemusedly as a misguided finch struggled to get a nest started on this dubious building ground. It wasn't going well.
He would get a few strands to hold, and they would blow away. The nest would seem to be gathering foundation, and then the whole thing would tumble off the pillar. Once he brought a prospective mate to view his meager accomplishments. She should have broken up with him.
After watching this agony of futility for a week or so, my daughter cut off the bottom of a two-liter soda bottle and nailed it to the edge of the pillar to serve as a brace. Surprisingly it worked, supplying just enough foundation to hold the nest materials to the pillar. Construction proceeded apace, and soon our pillar was housing new neighbors, who soon produced eggs, which soon gave way to little beaks peaking over the edge of the nest.
I was delighted when the finches returned this spring, and amused when the make-shift nest was actually a temporary battleground among several aspiring tenants. Eventually one pair won out, and we followed the process of new life again.
I was still at the church last Sunday afternoon when my wife called with terrible news. The nest was in shambles, two of the baby birds were dead, the parents were nowhere to be found, and my wife was trying to keep the only survivor alive (an attempt that ultimately failed).
The culprit was a house sparrow which had been attacking the nest. Sparrows sometimes do that, we learned on the internet, and nobody really knows why. They just do.
And so our nest was now a macabre ruin of dangling strands and blood. Why should the simple wonder of life and beauty be slashed to an untimely end? Life just wanted to live. Why not let it?
I marvel at the Gethsemane struggle of the living Christ, as death closed in around Him. Soon there would be soldiers with weapons, and then arrest, and betrayal, and beatings, and death. Each of us feels the weight of this broken world in some way or another, but no one has ever felt it as Christ did that night. Light had come into the world, but now darkness was swirling in to snuff it out.
I am so thankful for the message of Jesus' victory over the grave, but I am nearly as thankful for the account of his struggle as the maw of death opened to receive Him. He cried, He fell to the ground, and He called out to His Father for another way. Along the knife's edge of that terrible evening He encouraged His disciples to pray, even as they failed over and again. "The spirit is willing," Christ lamented, "but the body is weak."
I am comforted to learn that Jesus did not relish suffering, that He cried out as any man would have, and that He that no word of response from His Heavenly Father is recorded. We don't like suffering, struggle and loneliness. He didn't either.
But I am convicted by Jesus' words as He urged His sleep-ridden disciples to "pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
Jesus' body was weak as well, but He doggedly kept at the task of prayer as a means to connect with the ways of His Father in Heaven even as the ways of this world closed in around Him. He wanted deliverance, but He would not accept this world's tempting version of it. There was no other way. Not for Jesus.
Soon the author of life would be torn asunder, His own blood flowing through the torn shreds of his garments and body. Once again the evil currents of this world had whelmed the clear stream of God's goodness and love. Evil had won.
Except it hadn't.
"And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! There God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth." Philippians 2:8-9.
Easter is God's greatest reminder that death is not the final word. This world will oppose good, it will attack good, and it may even seem to kill it. But it can't. Take heart. Jesus has overcome the world by walking the longer, higher and deeper road that He now calls us to walk after Him.
I can no longer see our finches, as night has wrapped our porch in its rhythmic embrace. No matter, the rhythm of tomorrow beckons as does the hope that God's rhythms are deeper than the sparrows which shred and kill with cruel intention. "In the world you will have many trials," said Jesus, "but take heart, I have overcome the world."
Andy Meiser is the pastor of the Eshcol Brethren in Christ Church in Ickesburg.