The hardest part of gardening is always the waiting.
It’s counterintuitive, I know. Gardening involves such a long to-do list, each task marked by sometimes backbreaking labor — trenching, tilling, planting, weeding, spreading mulch, harvesting. How could any activity as gentle and passive as waiting be harder than all that?
And yet it is. It’s hard to wait for the ground first to thaw and then to dry out in the spring. It’s hard to wait for the cucumber and squash blossoms to burst open, then wilt, then fall and be followed by a tiny fruit that, in turn, will take its sweet time growing large and juicy on the vine. It’s also hard to wait for the first, lone, ripe red tomato — and even harder to wait for the second and the third after you’ve had a tantalizing taste of what’s to come.
Yes, the waiting is always harder than the working, and one particular kind of waiting (the kind of waiting I’m doing right now, as it happens) is the hardest of all.
The hardest part of gardening is waiting for the seeds to sprout.
A couple of weeks ago, on the recommendation of the Farmer’s Almanac, I tucked my tomato and pepper seeds into starter mix, sprinkled a little water, said a prayer and zipped them into my portable greenhouse in a warm, sunny spot in the house. Then the awful waiting began.
Every couple of days, I opened the flap to check on them, making sure the soil was damp (but not too damp) and the temperature and humidity were just right.
And I waited.
I hate waiting.
A week or so ago, the first tomato seedling poked its head through the soil. It was a moment of great rejoicing in our house. Life doesn’t get much better than the sunshine-soaked tang of a vine-ripened tomato fresh out of the garden. Other shoots quickly followed, and now half of the greenhouse shelf is a riot of leggy sprouts reaching for the February sun.
Half of the greenhouse has come to life, but I’m still waiting on those stubborn peppers to sprout. And while I wait, I stare at the dirt and wonder: Were the seeds too old? Were they not even viable to begin with? Did I skip some vital step when I harvested them last fall? Did I store them improperly? Is the soil too damp? Too dry? Too cool? Should I have ordered a heating mat for them? (Upon reflection, I probably should have ordered a heating mat.) If they don’t come up at all, when and how will I know? Will there even be time to start another batch, or will I have to buy someone else’s seedlings for my garden this year? Is it all just hopeless?
Two millennia ago, the Christians in Thessalonica were also wracked with doubt and impatience over seeds they had planted in the ground — only these seeds weren’t peppers and tomatoes, but the bodies of their fellow believers who had died in the Lord. They knew that Christ had conquered death, so why had these beloved brothers and sisters died? They knew that Christ had promised resurrection and eternal life to those who believed in His Name, so why were the “dead in Christ” still dead? When would the precious seeds sprout? Would these precious seeds sprout?
To these worried, doubting saints, St. Paul offered the reassurance of the blessed Gospel and of the prophetic Word given to him:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.(1 Thess. 4:13–18)
The dead in Christ will rise, he told them. Just you wait.
Just … you … wait.
And there we are again, right back at that dreadful waiting.
Looking around me, it seems like a lot of us right now, green thumbs or no, are waiting for seeds that we’ve planted to poke their heads out of the soil and begin to sprout. We’ve patiently planted seeds of mask-wearing, social distancing and vaccination over the past year, but they have yet to sprout into relief and freedom from the global pandemic that still plagues us. We’ve prayed endless prayers for ourselves and others — for deliverance, for healing, for comfort, for peace — yet still we await the Lord’s perfect answer to our prayers.
Many among us, like our fellow believers in Thessalonica, have even planted loved ones in the ground this year, weeping bitter tears and crying out, “How long, O Lord?” and “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
We stare at the dirt and wonder: Will these precious seeds ever spring to new life? Can they?
Christ answers us from now until eternity with the resounding YES that is His own resurrected body. He has died, and in Baptism, so have we. He is raised, and in His life, we have life.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.(John 12:24)
Even our Lord Himself has been “planted,” and the long, silent wait of Holy Saturday was the most excruciating creation has ever known. But then came the sprout. The ground cracked open, and the true Vine burst out to glorious life, bearing much fruit — us. Connected to that vine, we don’t have to stare at the dirt and wonder. Our future is forever bound to His. His life is our life.
As Saint Paul reminds us:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.(1 Cor. 15:20)
I honestly don’t know whether my poor little pepper seeds will ever pop their heads out of the soil. Gardening is an uncertain business. Even if you do everything right, there are no guarantees. Sometimes life and growth happen; sometimes they don’t.
I do know this, though: When my time comes to be planted in the ground, it won’t make any difference at all whether the soil is dry or damp, warm or cold, sunny or shady.
When He calls me, I will rise.
When He calls us, we will rise.
I can’t wait.