John 10: 22-30
‘It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.’ ‘It was winter.’ I have been to Jerusalem in the winter, and there was snow on the ground, and it was bitterly cold. We think of Jesus in light, flowing robes and sandals, preaching in warm and sunny climes. But not in our Gospel today. John tells us very specifically that ‘it was winter.’ Usually John marks time by referring to the Jewish religious festivals, but here, very pointedly, he tells us that it was winter. As so often for John, seemingly insignificant words carry a profound, symbolic meaning. ‘It was winter, it was night…’
This story at the end of chapter 10 marks the climax of several chapters describing the increasingly hostile controversies between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Here on this winter’s day, in the very temple itself, the words become ever more cold and bitter. Jesus finally seals his fate by declaring unequivocally, “The Father and I are one”, and the Jews pick up stones to stone him to death.
It was winter in Narnia, when those children in C. S. Lewis’ much-loved stories, first entered through the wardrobe into that magical land. Lucy went first. ‘She was standing in the middle of a wood, with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air. “Why is it winter here?” “The witch has made it always winter and never Christmas. But Aslan is on the move.”’
Jesus’ fierce controversy with the Jews in the Temple on that winter’s day marks the point of deepest winter in John’s Gospel. But immediately afterwards, we have the story of the raising of Lazarus. Aslan is on the move. The next time Jesus comes to Jerusalem, winter is over, the palms are in leaf, and he enters in triumph on a donkey, to enter into his passion, death and glorious resurrection.
For us now in Massachusetts, the winter is finally over, and these last few days have seen the glorious coming of spring, with trees bursting into leaf and blossom. I have always loved the description of the coming of spring to Narnia. ‘Edmund heard a curious noise, the noise of running water. All around, the streams were chattering, murmuring, bubbling, splashing and roaring. Then he saw for the first time the dark green of a fir tree, and slowly more and more trees shook off their robes of snow. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down onto the forest floor and you could see a blue sky above the tree tops. Soon more wonderful things happened. Coming into a glade of silver birch trees, he saw the ground covered in all directions with little yellow flowers-celandines. Beyond it they found snowdrops growing, and then a dozen crocuses-gold, and purple and white. And then a sound even more delicious than the sound of the water. A bird chirped from the branches of a tree, and soon the whole wood was ringing with birds’ music. The sky became bluer and bluer. In the wide glades there were primroses. The trees began to become fully alive. The larches and bushes were covered with green, the laburnums with gold. “This is no thaw”, said the dwarf. “This is spring. The winter has been destroyed. This is Aslan’s doing.”’
The winter has been destroyed. Death has been conquered. As the leaves and flowers burst forth, so Jesus burst forth from the tomb. ‘Behold I make all things new!’ There are so many reasons right now in our world why our own hearts might feel frozen or wintry: anxiety, restlessness, uncertainty, loneliness, grief. Yet Aslan is on the move. The Risen Lord is longing to draw near to us, and to draw us ever closer to the fire of his love. To warm our hearts with hope and joy. In the words of the hymn, ‘When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain, thy touch can call us back to life again.’
In your prayers, open your heart to Jesus, and invite him to draw near. Allow him to touch you anew and fill you with new life and hope. Listen deeply to his gracious words to you:
‘Arise my love, my fair one, and come away. For now, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth.’ Alleluia. (The Song of Solomon Ch. 2 verses 10-12)
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