Spring Training for Pentecost

This verse from Song of Songs brings
to mind two people at the same time.
The first is long-time Detroit Tigers
announcer Ernie Harwell, who would use
this verse to open the broadcast season
from spring training. The second person
is a former parishioner, whom I’ll call
Linda, who was a lifelong Tigers fan.

Linda followed the Tigers closely, her
spirits rising and falling with their winloss
record. She grew up watching the
Tigers as I did, and we would occasionally
bemoan the new system that tempted
players away from long-time service
in one organization and toward the most
money they could earn. She and I would
talk about the Tigers we would watch year
after year–Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammel,
Jack Morris, and even Kirk Gibson for a
time.

I think of that verse and I think of
Linda at this time of year, when the rains
are (mostly) over and gone, flowers appear
on the earth and the Tigers’ scores
pop-up on my home page. Spring is such
a relief for those of us who slog through
winter here in the Midwest. Our collective
shoulders relax, we walk a little taller,
we’re a little quicker with a pleasantry
to the neighbors we pass on our walks.
We feel like we’ve all survived something
together, and though we’re a little stronger
for it, we’re also really glad it’s done.

I think of Linda at this time of year
also because she’s not here to enjoy it. Not
here to listen to the Tigers’ season opener
or watch the tulips brighten. Linda died
on a cold Advent day over eight years ago.
She was barely into her 40s, a beloved
aunt to many nieces and nephews, and a
victim, like too many of those we love, of
cancer.

I think about her and Ernie Harwell
and the Tigers and spring at this time of
year. I think about the grand relief that
stretches across the Western Michigan
landscape when the temperatures climb
and the buds pop. And I think that the
wonderful relief we feel right now from
the grip of cold winds and blowing snow
is but a taste of the deep soul relief we
will feel on the day of Christ’s return. I
think about the end of all of the things
that send a chill into our souls: cancer
and MS and infertility and tragic accidents
and suicides and the loss of people
we love. I think of an end to burying
young women who love the Tigers. I think
of the end of death and the end of the
threat of death.

And I think of the Gift we’ve been
given in the meantime. In the waiting.
“Stay here,” the resurrected Jesus told
his followers. “Stay here until you’ve
been clothed with power from on high.”
And the power indeed did come, bursting
out of them in multi-lingual beauty, captivating
the attention of the worshiping
Jews and capturing more than a few of their hearts. “Stay here until you’ve been
clothed with power from on high.”

It is that Power, the Holy Spirit power,
that allows us to endure these losses we
suffer and keep moving forward, ever forward
toward the day of Christ’s return. It
is that Power, that Holy Spirit power, that
expresses itself not just in spoken beauty,
but also in loving embraces, joyful children,
peaceful evenings, patient parents,
kind gestures, good days, faithful friends,
gentle breezes, and, indeed, long-suffering.
Against such things there is no law.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Mary Hulst is assistant professor of preaching at Calvin
Theological Seminary and chaplain-elect at Calvin
College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.