John 15:9-17, Psalm 98
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. John 15:11
By The Reverend Marilyn Zehr
I stood on the crest of the hill today in that moment of barometric stillness between four days of spring sunshine and an impending afternoon rainstorm. And in the distance I heard the magical flute call of the hermit thrush. Its Mozart-rivaling melodic line threads its way through the forest now and on summer evenings. That wee bird, hard to spot but thrilling to hear, expresses creation’s joy.
Joy can be like that. It can be hard to spot in the midst of the world, as we know it.
In the same forest inhabited by the hermit thrush, I recently noted the impact of Beech Bark Disease on the beech trees in our hardwood and mixed forest. In the past 5-10 years most of the older trees have succumbed to the infection and are either dead or dying. While this is distressing, with enough time, the younger trees may be able to develop genetic resistance to the disease. But I wonder, will the effects of climate change with its swings between too much rain/snow and drought allow future generations of the tree time to adapt? The massive loss of the mature beech has a significant impact on wildlife, particularly the black bears that climb them to reach the nutritious beechnuts. I’m always fascinated to find the marks of their claws in the smooth beech bark. Finding this tangible evidence of the bear’s presence is a moment of joy twinged with sadness now at the loss of so many of these great trees.
And Jesus says, I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (John 15:11). What did he say to make our joy complete? In short, he says that if we keep his commandment to love one another as he has loved us, than our joy will be complete. And no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Love of one another includes love of the thrush, the bear and the beech tree. We know this to be true because Creator pronounced all things good. And Jesus, present at the beginning as the Word with God, became part of the created world when he became one of us. The Word and Wisdom of God became part of the world in order to bring life to a world that so often dwells in death and darkness (John 1:1-5). As we continue to celebrate the Risen Christ among us in this season of Easter we remember that Christ is still in the world bringing life out of death.
Christ’s risen life among us despite the powers of death and darkness is akin to the victory of God extolled in Psalm 98. In Psalm 98, God’s powerful victory of life for the children of Israel reveals to all nations and the earth God’s steadfast love and mercy. In response, the whole earth sings a song of joy. The sea roars and all that fills it, the floods clap their hands and the hills sing for joy because of the victory of the Eternal One who comes to judge the earth with righteousness and equity.
In light of this victory, the Psalmist asks humans to break out in a new song, with lyre, trumpet and horn. The word for trumpet and horn here is the same as the horn (shofar) that will sound at the Jubilee. (The word for Jubilee is yovel which also means ram’s horn). In the year of Jubilee, the horn announces the release throughout the land for all its inhabitants (both human and beast). Jubilee is a Sabbath for the land too and a release for the land and its inhabitants from all forms of debt and economic oppression and exploitation. The horn or trumpet announces this release, reminding all inhabitants that the land belongs to the Creator; we are but residents in it with the Eternal One (Leviticus 25:23). Because the land belongs to God, it too must be permitted to observe its Sabbaths. The land must be released and permitted, just like humans, to praise Creator through Shabbat (stopping or ceasing from enforced productivity). In the Psalmists words, “All that breathes, praises God.” (Psalm 150) The earth must speak its own gratitude. (Lefkovitz, 762 The Torah, A Women’s Commentary, 2008)
In this part of the world, the earth speaks its gratitude and joy through the song of the
hermit thrush, the beauty of the majestic beech tree and the wonder inspired by the normally gentle black bear who ambles through the forest seeking food according to Creator’s design. When I love them as I have been commanded to love, the joy that Jesus speaks of grows in me. As I participate and am implicit in the things that cause their stress, distress and demise, that joy diminishes.
The next time I hear the purity of the hermit thrush joy, I will hear again the invitation to participate with my whole life in the Jubilee release of the land and her inhabitants. This life-giving release frees all to love as we have been loved so that Christ’s joy in us can reach completion.
Marilyn Zehr is a 7th generation Mennonite settler, a Spiritual Director and a Minister who seeks to be attuned to the Sacred through the earth and it’s creatures. Marilyn and her wife, Svinda Heinrichs, reside in the hamlet of Maynooth, Ontario, Canada and on a 64-acre piece of unceded Algonquin territory. This hilltop land that sustains and heals all who venture there was once on the shores of an ancient glacial lake known as the Shawashkong and now overlooks a vast river valley in the York/Madawaska River watershed. Follow our adventures on https://riseabove470.wordpress.com
Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.