Groundhogs lie. Birds get faked out by the occasional warm day when the snows melt and we hear chirping through our windows. We get tricked into thinking the worst is past, that maybe warm weather and sunny days are arriving at last.
And then schools are delayed and canceled and snow and ice fill our sidewalks and driveways.
We have so many things that we look to as heralds of the coming spring, but to me, they're all so much wind. I don't trust them. There's only one thing that I count on to make me certain that the warm weather is, truly, on the way, that spring is just around the corner. And it happened last week.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training.
Groundhogs are just rodents, and strawberry spring is just a tease, but baseball is a promise. Every year I hold out for the first time I hear those magical sounds: the pop of a fastball hitting the leather of the catcher's mitt; the crack of a wooden bat driving a ball over the left field wall. Those sounds remind me that the world is wakening. That baseball fields all over might still be sleeping under a blanket of snow, but soon they'll be green and full of life, and laughter, of victory and defeat. Of struggle. Of triumph.
It's the promise of new life, of rebirth after the winter's sleep.
The promise that whatever winter has laid at our doorsteps, it'll pass, and the snow that crunches under our feet today will be the water that makes the grass grow green tomorrow. We're living in a world that needs a rebirth, but we are also living in the promise a world that WILL BE reborn.
Every spring. Every year.
Friends, that's a promise we all need.
Because we need to be reborn, too.
None of us are free from the missteps that lead to the winter in our hearts. There is no power in the world to make us less human, and less prone to mistakes. Even the giants of faith weren't free from the errant nature of humanity. The Apostle Paul expressed this in his letter to the churches in Rome, when he wrote:
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." [Romans 7:15, NRSV]
But just as Spring Training unmistakably marks the beginning of the end of winter in our world, we have a sure and certain sign that marks the beginning of the end of the winter in our hearts. Early next month, women and men all over the world will stand in places of worship all over the world. They will be touched on the forehead by a priest or a pastor or a friend bearing ashes or oil, and hear the ancient words, "Repent, and believe the Gospel."
Together in spirit, all of us who struggle with doubt and sin, who bear the burdens of our own actions like chains around our hearts, will be invited by that touch, by the ashes and the oil, to remember that the one who came to give us life in abundance comes again and again to renew that gift.
That no matter how many times we might need to experience renewal, to experience rebirth, in Christ Jesus God gives us as many opportunities as we need, and more.
Winter will be back, it never fails. It will come back in our world, and it will return in our hearts. We will never be free from anger, jealousy, greed, fear, doubt, and pain. They are as much a part of being human as the beating of our hearts and the breath in our lungs. But just as the crack of the bat will reawaken the promise of spring, so will the grace of Christ come, again and again, as often as we need it, to offer us God's redemptive love.
Rev. Stephen Dale is a pastor of the United Methodist Church who has come to Bennington to start the AfterDark faith community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-440-0217, or at https://www.benningtonafterdark.org.