In 1848, the wife of an Anglican clergyman from Ireland, Cecil Frances Alexander, penned these now famous words concerning the wonder of God's creation:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all!
These words constitute what has proven to be one of history's most beloved Christian hymns. Perhaps you have even sung these words before.
The portrait that Alexander paints of God's glorious creation throughout this hymn is stirring. She speaks of "each little flower that opens" and "the purple headed mountains." Indeed, the imagery is so rich that you almost feel as if you're the one gazing with wonder on what she describes.
As much as I appreciate hymns which celebrate God's creation, I have always found them to be a little disingenuous. All thingsbright and beautiful? Really? Honestly, I can think of several things that I would call neither bright nor beautiful. Take fire ants, for instance.
During my college years, I worked at a country radio station in Austin. One evening, as I was pulling the night shift, I decided to step out for a breath of fresh air when my foot, which was protected by no more than a flip flop, landed right in the center of a massive fire ant mound. The burning bites began instantaneously. I quickly searched for relief. Thankfully, there was a fountain at the entrance to the radio station. And so, I flung off my flip flop and doused my foot in the fountain's cooling water, all the while screaming, "Die fire ants! Die!" The hymn may call fire ants "bright and beautiful," but I prefer my fire ants "cold and dead."
Unfortunately, as I learned that evening, fire ants are quite hearty creatures. They just wouldn't die. Their stings continued even with my foot in the fountain. I finally had to carefully search my foot while it remained submerged in the water and ruthlessly pry everylast fire ant I could find from my now red and swollen skin.
In our reading for today from Romans 6, Paul writes these glorious words: "For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him" (verse 9). Some 2,000 years ago, Paul says, Satan consorted with the evil entities of this world to make an attempt on the life of Christ. They accused him, arrested him, mocked him, beat him, and finally murdered him on a cross. And they thought they had the Savior just the way they preferred him: not "bright and beautiful," but "cold and dead." But three days later, much to the surprise and chagrin of Satan and his minions, they discovered that Jesus was heartier than they ever imagined. For Jesus could not and would not stay dead. And now, upon his resurrection, Paul reminds us, "He cannot die again." For he has conquered death.
But that's not all. Because the Savior's incredulity toward death marks our lives as well: "Now if we died with Christ, we also believe that we will live with him as well" (verse 8). In other words, just as Christ cannot die again, we, at our own resurrections on the Last Day,will also not die again. Indeed, not even a suffocating dip in a fountain can rob us of this life. In fact, drowning water is actually the very vehicle which God uses to give us a resurrected life: "We were therefore buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (verse 4).
So today, celebrate the Savior who just can't seem to stay dead. And hold out hope that he will keep us from staying dead too. For he, in the midst of a broken world in which so much is dark and ugly, is truly "bright and beautiful."