I tapped a few trees this past week – five maples and two birches. Most years I tap shortly after Valentine’s Day, but this year has been unusually cold (in case you hadn’t noticed). It will be a shortened sap season. But now that the temperatures are beginning to rise above freezing during the day, the trees will awaken from their winter slumber. The sap has just started to run – well, maybe better to say crawl, as the volume has been pretty minimal through the first two days. It may take a bit to shake off the winter sleepies.
For me, tapping is the first sign of hope that is at the tale end of winter dormancy, a whisper of resurrection. Soon daisies will break through, buds will form, birds will return, bees will buss, lakes will thaw, but the first sign of new life is found a few inches beneath the bark of maple trees as the rejuvenating sap is coaxed from the roots to the limbs by the warming sunshine.
This Lent I have been studying hope. As part of this I recently read a sermon by John Piper on Romans 8. There Paul says “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
In other words, any futility we find in creation has an undercurrent of hope. Creation is constantly pushing back against decay and corruption. Spring is a powerful example of this. The barrenness of winter is always prodding us forward to the regeneration of spring. So Piper says of a bare branched tree outside his kitchen window, “That poor tree waits with eager longing for the warmth and brightness of spring. God subjected it to the futility of gnarled, naked leaflessness, but he did it in hope, the hope of spring. And I believe springtime is a yearly reminder not to lose heart, because an eternal spring will come some day.”
He says that so well. That reminder is just beginning for us as the sap begins to flow. It will pick up steam in the weeks to come. And the hope of creation is a template for the hope of humanity, as we “wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23). Spring on the calendar is a picture of redemption. How fitting that Easter coincides with this season of rebirth. Easter is to the soul as spring is to the trees. The redemption that is bursting forth in creation is a billboard for the hurting soul. That barren branch can live again in Christ. Hope is alive.