by Rev. Kimberly Secrist Ashby
“I am convinced that neither death nor life…. nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”— Romans 8:39-39
While on sabbatical I photographed these two trees on the island of Mallorca. Both impressed me with their resilience. One is in the middle of old-town Palma, in the center of a plaza, the only tree anywhere around. It has a certain space in which to grow, and people seem to revere it, not just for its shade in the summer. The other grows along a highway on the northern coast, near Estellencs, a small town that sits on the mountains above the Mediterranean. It’s obviously faced something traumatic in its history that required it to grow sideways instead of up for quite a while, but it flourishes still right where it is. Two more photographs from other parts of Spain are currently eluding location, but one is a tree that had been burned on one side by wildfire. It continues to grow and recover, though at a slower pace than the grasses surrounding it. The last is a tree on a mountainside, where the dirt has washed away from its roots in many places. Yet the tree continues to stand and grow in new directions, seeking staying power for years to come despite the adversities in its environment.
I certainly didn’t intend to do a study on trees, but all four of them spoke to me in their different situations. As I’ve reflected on our current situation with the coronavirus, and an extended time of adversity and changed environment, they came to mind. All four trees have faced serious challenges, from not having room to grow, to being burned or hurt in a way that required growth in a different direction in order to survive. The key is that in all four situations, all four trees have root systems which are holding them tightly and firmly in place, even if the dirt around them is washing away. They are able to react and respond in ways that allow them to keep living, and even thriving and producing fruit! Although the adversity they faced was challenging, none of that adversity was powerful enough to cut off their life.
So often I read Romans 8 at services of Witness to the Resurrection, when we remember the lives of faithful saints who are now resting with God. Yet this truth is so valuable for us now. We are facing a virus that has control of so much. It is a formidable power, affecting older and younger people, healthier and less healthy people. It is so powerful that it has forced us to change the way we live to cope with its spread and its impact. And yet, we need to ask ourselves what can separate us from the love of God. Can the coronavirus separate us from God? Never! There is no power, not even this one, not even the death it can cause, that can separate us from the unconditional love of our Lord and Savior.
We are being called to stay rooted in Christ our Savior (see John 15), and to find new ways to be resilient, to flourish and grow in times of deep adversity and challenge. We may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, hopeless, and lost. However, the coronavirus is not in charge of this world ultimately; God is, and when we trust in God, our roots will stay firmly planted regardless of the changing environment around us. That is true, deep, lasting hope for the future!
Let Us Pray
Lord Jesus, You are the vine and we are the branches. In this troubling and difficult time, keep us firmly rooted in You, drinking the nourishment You provide. Remind us that through all the adversity we face, nothing will ever separate us from Your love, through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior. Amen.
Kimberly Secrist Ashby is the pastor at Fallston Presbyterian Church and convener of the Susquehanna Parish Ministry Group. Her daughters say that school with mom is probably harder than normal school, but they’ve never eaten better, since she loves to cook! They’re also learning a lot more Spanish, so watch out, world!