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Spring Training for Pentecost

By May 1, 2009 No Comments

This verse from Song of Songs brings to mind two people at the same time. The first is long-time Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, who would use this verse to open the broadcast season from spring training. The second person is a former parishioner, whom I’ll call Linda, who was a lifelong Tigers fan.

Linda followed the Tigers closely, her spirits rising and falling with their winloss record. She grew up watching the Tigers as I did, and we would occasionally bemoan the new system that tempted players away from long-time service in one organization and toward the most money they could earn. She and I would talk about the Tigers we would watch year after year–Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammel, Jack Morris, and even Kirk Gibson for a time.

I think of that verse and I think of Linda at this time of year, when the rains are (mostly) over and gone, flowers appear on the earth and the Tigers’ scores pop-up on my home page. Spring is such a relief for those of us who slog through winter here in the Midwest. Our collective shoulders relax, we walk a little taller, we’re a little quicker with a pleasantry to the neighbors we pass on our walks. We feel like we’ve all survived something together, and though we’re a little stronger for it, we’re also really glad it’s done.

I think of Linda at this time of year also because she’s not here to enjoy it. Not here to listen to the Tigers’ season opener or watch the tulips brighten. Linda died on a cold Advent day over eight years ago. She was barely into her 40s, a beloved aunt to many nieces and nephews, and a victim, like too many of those we love, of cancer.

I think about her and Ernie Harwell and the Tigers and spring at this time of year. I think about the grand relief that stretches across the Western Michigan landscape when the temperatures climb and the buds pop. And I think that the wonderful relief we feel right now from the grip of cold winds and blowing snow is but a taste of the deep soul relief we will feel on the day of Christ’s return. I think about the end of all of the things that send a chill into our souls: cancer and MS and infertility and tragic accidents and suicides and the loss of people we love. I think of an end to burying young women who love the Tigers. I think of the end of death and the end of the threat of death.

And I think of the Gift we’ve been given in the meantime. In the waiting. “Stay here,” the resurrected Jesus told his followers. “Stay here until you’ve been clothed with power from on high.”And the power indeed did come, bursting out of them in multi-lingual beauty, captivating the attention of the worshiping Jews and capturing more than a few of their hearts. “Stay here until you’ve been clothed with power from on high.”

It is that Power, the Holy Spirit power, that allows us to endure these losses we suffer and keep moving forward, ever forward toward the day of Christ’s return. It is that Power, that Holy Spirit power, that expresses itself not just in spoken beauty, but also in loving embraces, joyful children, peaceful evenings, patient parents, kind gestures, good days, faithful friends, gentle breezes, and, indeed, long-suffering. Against such things there is no law. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Mary Hulst is assistant professor of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary and chaplain-elect at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.