“But these are all dead, and I am alive!” I objected, shuddering.
“Not much,” rejoined the sexton with a smile, “—not nearly enough! Blessed be the true life that the pauses between its throbs are not death!”
“The place is too cold to let one sleep!” I said.
“Do these find it so?” he returned. “They sleep well—or will soon. Of cold they feel not a breath: it heals their wounds.—Do not be a coward, Mr. Vane. Turn your back on fear, and your face to whatever may come. Give yourself up to the night, and you will rest indeed. Harm will not come to you, but a good you cannot foreknow.”
George MacDonald, Lilith ch. vii (1895).
The other night I fell asleep with my windows open. A refreshing chill awakened me. Summer’s days were numbered. Autumn was literally in the air.
Vigorously as I maintain that spring is the joy and crown of the seasons, I have come to appreciate the retreat of summer before the advance of autumn. There are obvious reasons for this: crisp air, golden afternoons, brilliant leaves. There are, however, less obvious reasons: lengthening shadows, shortening days, death. If spring’s motif is resurrection, autumn’s motif is death. What is the succession of changing leaves but a vivid death march, with the brilliant maples in the vanguard and the subdued crimson of the stately oaks holding the rearguard? And, when the last of the oak leaves has given up the ghost, what remains on the branches? Thousands of magnificent little death monuments, the bronzed beech leaves.
For the conclusion of last year’s Trinity season, I wrote a paean to maturity under the sun. Under the sun, though, what follows maturity? Death. In embracing the former, we cannot help but receive the latter — to lay down in the cold, not knowing when we will rise.
In the merciful providence of God we need not flee the brilliance or the cold of advancing death. This thing, which once was our dread enemy, has been conquered by a Man. It is now His instrument for cleansing the old earth’s palate for the new earth, and our palate for the resurrection. Just as sleep has ever been His instrument for cleansing our palates for the new day, and autumn His instrument for cleansing the world’s palate for the freshness of spring.