Kansas was brown when I arrived in July. Dead, dry, flat, and brown. The wheat harvest had just been completed, and all that remained in the fields was the jagged stubble left over from an uneven shave.
I was disappointed. I was moving here from Kentucky, where the rolling hills of the horse farms are green most of the year. I used to go driving in the afternoons, just to lose myself in the leafy life of the place, to speed around the curves and feel the hills beneath my wheels. I didn’t care if I burned through all my gas money; those drives injected life into the long hours of seminary studies.
A few weeks ago one of my seminary friends asked me if I had been out on any drives since moving to Kansas. “Nope,” I replied. He asked me why not. “There’s nothing to see,” I said. “Why waste my gas driving on flat, straight roads through dead fields?”
Such was my opinion until just these last few weeks, when an amazing thing has begun to happen across the Kansas plains. As the rest of the country goes dormant for the winter, the wheat fields here have sprung to life as the winter wheat has begun to sprout. I didn’t notice it at first, but one day while running I looked up and noticed a green carpet stretching in all directions. And for the first time, I saw some beauty in my new home.
Now obviously, I know next to nothing about the life cycle of wheat, or I would have known that winter wheat comes up green before the harshest days of winter. But since I do know next to nothing about wheat, I have found fascination in what most around here probably hardly notice, because they have seen it year after year for their whole lives.
I’m not used to seeing life sprout in such abundance in a season of death. Nothing else here is green. The trees have dropped their leaves, the grass is brown. Autumn has done its work. And so what fascinates me is seeing new life sprouting in the very moment of death.
And trust me, it is sprouting up everywhere. I read the other day that Sumner County, KS (where I live) produces more wheat each year than most small countries. I am truly in the breadbasket of America.
Bread has pretty much always been the staple of American life (except for that one year when the Atkins diet was all the rage). Now here before me I see the unlikely beginnings of our bread of life.
The green fields have reminded me of the words of Jesus in John 6, where he says that he is the Bread of Life. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).
With Jesus, too, the Bread of Life emerges from a moment of death. It is life that is unlikely, unlooked for. While everyone was watching the Son of God dying on a tree, the bread of life had already been sown in the hearts of his disciples, just as the winter wheat was sown while I watched the dead leaves drop from trees in my backyard.
It makes little sense to me that the wheat needs to be planted BEFORE the dormancy and death of winter. Why can’t it be planted in the spring when all the rest of our crops are sown?
Life emerges from death, that much is clear. And I don’t know why, but sometimes life has to be sown before the time of death. I think that’s what Jesus did in his three years of ministry. He sowed the life that would emerge from his death, and then even in the cold days of waiting as he lay in the grave, that life was already in the soil, ready to sprout when the Son rose again.
Anyways, the land is green out the window to my left again, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can.