"They may crush the flowers, but they can't stop the Spring.” — Alexander Dubček
May Day has just passed and the weather outside reminds me more of early March. It is as if I am living a year without Spring. There are years when a season seems to have gone “missing” somehow. 1968 was one of those in northern Europe.
I remember sitting on my aunt and uncle’s back porch helping them process the harvest from their garden. We were snapping green beans. The radio was tuned to the Northern German Radio-network. A bizarre and eclectic mix of music meant to alternately appeal to all generations was working itself out. It was August 21st and we were wearing sweaters even though, even in Germany, it is to be in the mid 70s that time of year.
A serious but calm voice interrupted the program. In very few but precise words, he announced that the Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia during the previous night to undo the changes in the politics of the nation created by what we commonly refers to as the Prague Spring.
I remember looking at Hans and Gerda’s faces as the announcement was calmly read. There was a dark stone like stare on both of their faces. Their postures spoke for them as I remember distinctly that no word was spoken.“Where will this end?” I think that was the question their being was asking.
Both of them were refugees from the eastern provinces, he a veteran, she a hastily trained field emergency doctor. They had seen what the WWII eastern front had looked like. They had experienced war and Russian occupation firsthand and were not of the mind to ever go through anything like it again. Everyone in Germany knew where the defensive lines of the Cold War had been set and we knew we were on the east of it. How indeed would all this work out?
The Russian invasion of 1968 was mainly a political move set to stomp out new ideas. Leonid Brezhnev’s doctrine was that the Czechoslovakian people were being oppressed by their intellectual class, especially their artists and authors, that had to be purged from power. Nevertheless, as WWII Germans my family could not help remember the absolute hell that his predecessor, Stalin, had visited on them. The Nemmersdorf massacre had taken place in the same province that my mother and her sister grew up in. It was in their souls. It had been the reason they had fled west. The same was true with many Germans of their generation, including the radio announcer who read faithfully the news without any tinge of emotion.
Is it honest to stare into heaven? (Acts 1:11) The Ascension text from Acts might guide us to say: No. After all, the messengers, the heralds of the resurrection (Lk 24:4) ask what sounds like a scolding question: “Why are you looking into heaven?” We all are gazing into heaven in some respect. We are, to use Larry Gillick’s words, people whose spirits stretch into heaven but whose feet are solidly planted on earth. There, says that 2nd reading for the 7th Sunday of Easter, we cry: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Somehow the rendition of the Ascension from Acts 1 has more realism to it than the one from Luke 24:50-53, yet somehow the one from Luke has more joy to it. I would like to think of a merry band of disciples seeing the Lord ascend and responding with faith and expectation, expressing it in unending praise in the holy places. I like to think of a group of disciples confident and secure that praises “in spite of.” They, like all Israelites had seen as much hell as my people in the 1940’s.
But Acts just seems so much more realistic with the people in question. Their words might just as well have been: “Please, Lord, don’t leave us now! We have no idea how this will end.” It is all too simple to criticize the disciples in Acts 1 and laud the ones in Luke 24. Comfort and prolonged absence of the face of war on our soil and in our lives makes it possible to embrace Luke 24 and to say to Acts 2 type disciples: “You need to get going. Stop being so fearful and lazy.”
Yet, ours might also need to be the reaction of Acts and the cry of Revelation 22:20: “Come, Lord Jesus,” or “stay Lord Jesus.” Gene Newell used to tell of himself in his easy chair on a Sunday afternoon in front of his favorite football team on the television and saying to himself: “Who needs God.” Yes, he was absolutely not a Cleveland Browns fan. But joking aside, our comfort might give us to think it. Is the future really that secure with us that we can think: “who needs God?” And, if we do, is there really any justification to say or think that everything is and always will be well with us?
Will you protect us? Will you come and be our peace? Will you abide with me in this trial? Must I see the horrors of yesterday again tomorrow? Is tomorrow worth living for? Will you be my hope? These are legitimate questions in the souls of those who suffer in many corners of the world where tyrants will crush the flowers of Spring, again, and again. These are also the questions that the souls of children ask their moms — I write the week before Mothers’ Day.
There are 10 days in the narratives of the New Testament, where the presence of the LORD is questionable: Ascension until Pentecost, and 3 more between Good Friday and Easter. Their question to you are: Can you really live without the presence? Will there be Spring?