As the ground thaws and snow piles yield to beds of dark brown soil, I begin to scan for signs of new growth. For days on end in these colder regions, the earth still holds its riches underground. Finally, the first shoots come forth: tulips, and the daylilies that have their run of large patches of the garden.
I continue to eye the perennials. Was my transplant of peonies in the fall successful? Did the lilac and rose-mallow survive the winter, with the polar vortex bringing the coldest temperatures we’ve had in decades? Behind my watchfulness is a persistent question: Will life come back?
During these six weeks of Eastertide, many churches hear the stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples after the resurrection. We proclaim that God has overcome the power of death.
Yet in the world around us, sometimes it looks like death is in charge. In early spring I recall the April day two years ago when six young men were shot on the street next to our church community’s garden. Two of them were killed: Deonta Turner, who was 23, and Lemont Davis, who was 27. I am heartbroken each time I stand on that spot and recall their suffering as their bodies lay near the earth in our garden, a place where we hope to cultivate peace.
In those moments, the death-dealing forces in our world feel intensely powerful. They left the bodies of two young men lifeless, with those who loved them never again to hear the sound of their voices or to feel the warmth of their touch.
A few days after the shooting, I stood at a nearby train station that has an elevated platform and looked out over the park below. Dozens of daffodils bloomed in the grassy stretches surrounding the lagoon. God’s handiwork, clothed in vivid yellows and oranges, declared to me the glory of God, the message of Easter I was longing to hear.
Flowers that grow from bulbs in the early spring tell us that life comes back, even as winter’s cold grip has not entirely let us go. And, like all plants, they grow from the earth that is, after all, the decomposed matter of last season’s greenery. A daffodil is new life burst forth from death and decay. In that way they show us that death does not have ultimate power, even over these bodies in which we live and move and have our being. God brings new life out of places where death seems to reign.
This Easter season, I am recommitting myself not only to look for signs of new life but also to be a living witness to resurrection in the communities of which I am a part. Together we can stand against death-dealing forces: the evils of racism, poverty and violence.
A few months after the young men were killed near our community’s garden, I started getting to know ministers and members of the Pentecostal church across from our three congregations that share a building. On Wednesday evenings when I was working with volunteers in the garden, I began to notice a small group gathering at the northwest corner of the garden to pray for peace, hope and flourishing for all. Neighbors have joined in as the group walks along the block where the shooting took place. For the past two summers, I’ve taken part in the prayer walks under their leadership, together seeking God’s strength and guidance.
It is a small step in the larger struggle for justice. Yet it is a visible expression of the truth that out of death God brings new life.
Celeste Kennel-Shank, a former MWR assistant editor, is an editor and community gardener in Chicago.