The 16-mile Hennepin Canal Trail begins about ten minutes from our home—well technically, it’s the Hennepin Canal Feeder Trail that connects to the actual Hennepin Canal Trail, which is basically a rail trail running about 100 miles from the Rock River in Moline to the Illinois River in Hennepin. Anyway, we enjoy visiting the trail fairly often. The main trail is a flat asphalt and gravel bed that lies right on the bank of the canal. But parallel to the flat trail, tucked away in the woods, is a dirt path used sometimes by mountain bikers and those of us who prefer the challenge of an up-and-down hiking experience.
My wife and I took a bit of a hike on the trail last week when the weather finally broke, the sun came out, and the temps rose above 60. Within feet of the trailhead, we came across a large swath of tiny violets in the peak of bloom. It was striking because almost everything else in the area was still pretty much dormant or barely beginning to bud. We both remarked how beautiful it was and stopped to snap a couple of phone photos.
This morning the sun was shining brightly, temps were ideal, and I thought it’d be a good opportunity to return the HCFT for a 2 ½ mile backpack training session and seek some inspiration for this week’s Pastor’s Page post. So off I went. As I got started, the first thing I noticed was how tight my leg muscles were. Just a couple days ago, I donned the backpack for the first time this season, and Chris and I hiked a couple miles at White Pines State Park. So today I noticed the effects of that first excursion. As I ambled along mulling over how out of shape I am, I walked right past the swath of violets, not even thinking about them—until I was several feet down the trail. And it struck me that the blossoms didn’t strike me. I stopped, turned, and looked again. Sure enough. Nothing very spectacular, actually. Within days of last week’s vibrant display of light purple blossoms, the vibrancy had dissipated significantly. I was struck by how quickly the flowers faded.
Couple that with a comment made almost in passing as I was sitting in the dentist chair first thing this morning. While the hygienist was scanning over my chart, she remarked, “Oh, I see you’re having a birthday this month!” “Yep,” I replied, “’fraid so.” Then she started her work. But as if what she saw in the chart finally dawned on her, she exclaimed, “Oh, and this is a big one this year, too!” She was referring, of course, to one of those birthdays beginning with a number ranging from 3-10 and ending in a 0. I’ll let you guess what the first number is, but I’ll give you a hint. It’s greater than 3, but less than 7. If you guessed 4 or 5, bless you! Anyway, she went on to admit that she hits the same number this year, as does my dentist. This led to the mostly one-sided conversation about how the years go by so much faster…how we’re sounding like our parents who used to say things like, “Another year’s gone by already! I can’t believe it’s ____ already!” And so on.
So, with that experience in the dentist chair fresh in my mind, when I noticed the fading violets my mind was drawn instantly to something Isaiah said that the Apostle Peter picked up on. Isaiah heard the Lord’s voice say, “Cry!” “Well, what shall I cry?” Isaiah wanted to know. The content of his message was striking:
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:6-8)
Fast forward a few hundred years, and Peter applies that passage to his audience (1 Peter 1:23-25) as he writes:
…since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
So I was reminded by the fading flowers on my hike, and the fading flower of my life, that life is transient and short, but life from God—eternal life produced by the living, abiding gospel—is radically different. It remains forever! No dropping petals…no fading glory…forever! As you’re confronted with your own “fading glory,” I trust you can smile at it with the confidence of eternal life found exclusively in the good news of Jesus Christ.