And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelations 21:5, NRSV
I walked across the yard under a cloudless blue sky, the decay of leaves and the fermentation of fallen apples drifting up to meet my nose. The last few leaves on the gnarled old apple trees glowed golden in the afternoon sunlight. As I opened the door to my grandmother’s back porch, I was greeted by the musty scent of the cellar there. It’s a comforting fragrance, emanating from the little room where the cool, damp air never seems to change and where canned jams and vegetables, root crops, and apples are preserved throughout the seasons.
Granny met me at the door, wearing a polyester jacket the color of robins’ eggs and a necklace with an amber butterfly charm dangling from the end. We hugged and talked about the apple butter she had been helping some neighbors cook down that morning, her cheeks still pink from the brisk fall air. I followed Granny into the living room where wood smoke from the fireplace provided another nostalgic odor. A feeling of contentment and security came over me in this little house where each season, since childhood, has come around with its predictable weather, holidays, rituals, and foods.
I settled down into my grandfather’s chair, the overstuffed old recliner closest to the fire. In a quiet moment, I looked over at Granny and was startled out of my dreamy serenity. I saw not my grandmother, but the watery eyes of a very elderly woman. Her skin looked thin and fragile, pale parchment transparent over dark blue veins. Her eyes were foggy, their blue grey now more grey than blue. I realized that her steps are not as sure now, her movements are slower, her breath shorter. I blinked back tears as I fully recognized how she has aged. Just as the greenest leaves flame into red, orange, and yellow, then dull into brown and crumble back into the soil, she too is subject to the death that lies dormant in all natural things, awaiting its time to be revealed.
In these mountains, we save everything. We preserve summer crops, maintain traditional values, and follow old customs; we cling to what we know. We work endlessly to overcome decay, waste, and rot. People from all places and cultures preserve, ritualize, memorialize. These are our best attempts to hold on to the people and things we love, to ward off death, to keep winter from beating us. No matter how successful our efforts, we are always subject to the changing of the seasons and to time’s erosive power.
As I looked at Granny, the suffocating bulk of temporal reality sitting hard on my chest, I remembered the spiritual vein of hope that runs through all things. Jesus, the eternal spring, has conquered death in his very person—he has completely turned it upside down. He is not, like us, limited to preserving what is old and worn out, to finding comfort only in memories. In his hands, death—the most painful reality of our existence—becomes a tool for renewal, rebirth, and resurrection. As real and heartbreaking as it is to see the cold hands of winter begin to take hold of Granny’s life, I know that the spark of spring, the eternal flame of the Holy Spirit, already lies within her.