As the air grows crisper, I’m reminded that fall is my favorite season. The chilly nights, the jackets and sweatshirts, the rustling leaves – they are all delightful to me. Perhaps it’s that, despite its place two-thirds of the way through the calendar year, fall always brings new beginnings. Every new year of my high school, college, and graduate school started in the fall. All of my new jobs began in the fall. And now, as I look ahead, I already see that my family’s sense of time will be shaped by our children’s schedules, which will also begin in the fall. Fall, more than January for me, is a time of new beginnings.
This concept of a new beginning also might seem odd given that our fall imagination is shaped so vividly by things dying. Those gorgeous, ever-changing leaves, after just six months of hard work bringing in energy from the sun, fall to the ground. Those bright yellows, oranges, and reds sure don’t look like death to me. Only when we get to those morose browns does the color of the process seem to match what’s actually happening.
Now, you may have noticed that worship at St. Paul lately has been teeming with its own new beginnings. Faith proclaimed, water splashed, promises made – nothing marks the beginning of life in the body of Christ quite like baptisms do. Yet, hidden inside the joy, excitement, and wonder of welcoming folks into the Lord’s family is, surprisingly, death. In baptism we are joined to Christ’s death. We proclaim a death to living our own way, according only to our desires. We trust in God’s promise to make us dead to all that keeps us from really living and alive in faith to God. Most days we may not feel this death or life. Things may even look or feel the opposite. But we trust God in the process.
And here, perhaps, we understand the trees better, too.
For though the leaves die, the tree mysteriously survives. It lets go of its leaves without surrendering its roots, or its reach. May God help us to let go of those clinging weights keeping us from really living, and to hold fast to words and people of promise as we keep running this race of life together (Hebrews 12:1-2, paraphrased). Here’s to new beginnings, fall-style.