Near the northeast corner of our building we have a rhododendron1 that was planted some years ago, and it is one of the few pieces of landscaping left intact since I came to pastor EBC in 2011. Today, as I walked to the church to prepare to preach this Sunday, I noticed that the beautiful pink flowers that have blanketed that plant for the last several weeks are beginning to fall. In fact, there is a carpet of pink petals underneath and around the bush, and although it still splashes bright colors amid the dark green leaves, it will not be long before the blooms will be only a spring-time memory. To be sure, the knock-out roses that are growing across the front of the building will do their part to supply color and animation to our landscape throughout the summer months, but there is something about the sudden appearance of the rhododendron’s flowers and their all-too-brief lifespan that speaks a powerful truth about life. With deceptive speed, the years of life flow by, and, before we know it they are gone, not forgotten, but shadows only to be seen in the mind’s eye and never again to be touched.
The writers of Scripture often used the fast-fading flowers of spring as an image of the brevity and tenuous nature of life. For instance, in Job 14:1-2, the grief-stricken father says concerning the nature of man, that he is “of few days and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and fades away; he flees like a shadow and does not continue.” And the psalmist writes, in Ps. 103:15-16, “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” The prophet Isaiah uses the same image in 40:6-8 when he writes, “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades…” And even the NT writers make us of this same image, with Jesus himself leading the way in Matt. 6:28,30, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow…Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you?” James employs it in his epistle when he writes of the rich that they should glory in humiliation because, “as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes.”
But even though the flowers themselves remind us that our youth passes too quickly, and we cannot regain the summit of our strength once it is gone, they can also remind us that there are some things which do not grow old and pass away. With the exception of Job 14, which is, admittedly, the desperate prayer of a grieving man, and is included more for descriptive rather than prescriptive purposes, the passages I have cited contrast the fading flowers with things such as the eternality of God’s faithful love which he gives continually to those who fear him and keep his commandments (Ps. 103:17-18). Isaiah reminds us that the word of God’s mouth is unchanging and eternal, not like the flowers which wither and die with the passing of God’s breath (40:8). Jesus instructs to seek his kingdom and righteousness instead of the fleeting securities of wealth and prosperity (Matt. 6:33). And finally, James teaches that instead of the passing influence of riches, we ought to rejoice in trials and seek the crown of life which God “has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).”
So as I look out and consider the beauty of the rhododendron, flashing its soon-to-be-gone colors in the warm sunshine, it is not with sadness or a longing for days past, but with a renewed hope in the eternal promises of God. Someday this life will be nothing more than a shadow that has passed, and I, for one, look forward to the prospect of the unfading beauty of heaven and the unending brightness of the glory of God in the face of his Son, Jesus Christ.
1The name rhododendron comes from the ancient Greek and means “rose tree.” It is a genus of woody plant of over 1,000 distinct species, and although it is primarily found in Asia, it’s colorful display may be found all over the world.