The greatest surprise
Every fortnight people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life. They hope that you will be encouraged by it.
There is a wonderful rhythm to the year, as God punctuates the calendar with the seasons, one after another, each heralding the next, year in year out.
In our temperate world there are few surprises, except when winter holds on as long as it can, and seems slow to leave, like last year, or when summer has one last hurrah before the countryside is swathed in autumn technicolour. Now, with the welcome stretch in the evenings, spring is here, gently removing my desire for a scarf.
For me, living in the city, the seasons don’t seem to be as pronounced as they are across the hedgerows and fields of the countryside – that natural, unsurprising, yet visible, demarcation of time that is still important, if not essential, to those who work and live on the land - even with technological advances farmers enjoy today. Seeing that seasonal change in all its fullness is something that I still miss.
Around the village where I come from, on the Sussex High Weald, nestling between the North and South Downs of southern England, farms are mainly arable, with dairy and sheep farming too. Unsurprisingly, when the wind blew in the right direction, I could often hear the reassuring sounds of the combines and the tractors floating through the open window, as they worked away in the distance, making the most of the light at harvest time.
With summer gone, there was often another sound that came in on the breeze, something more akin to southern Africa than Sussex - the sound of elephants. Life is full of surprises, the best ones are, of course, the good ones, and for this kid, that out of place sound meant one thing; that the circus, which came every autumn to the village, was back!
Just like life itself, the Bible is also full of surprises. For example, even though Jesus had told his disciples that he would be killed and would rise again on the third day (Luke 18:31-34), they didn’t get it, or understand who He actually was. Surprising, since they had been with Him for three years.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall, however, when Jesus appeared to them, frightened and startled, in that Upper Room after His resurrection (John 20:19-21). Thomas of course was out and missed seeing the resurrected Christ, declaring that he didn’t believe He’d returned, and would only believe it when he saw Jesus for himself - even placing his hands in Jesus’ wounds for proof.
He didn’t have to wait long. When Jesus came again a week later, He surprised Thomas by telling him to put his hands in the wounds, with the admonition, ‘Stop doubting and believe’, to which Thomas replied “My Lord and my God” (John 20 27-28). Wow!
But at that moment, Jesus, the all-powerful resurrected Saviour, also said to Thomas gently, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Down the ages, Jesus was also speaking to me, just as He is speaking to you.
Those words have echoed in my heart ever since I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and become my Lord and Saviour. Will you ask Him to be yours today? You’ll be so surprised by the new life that you can have in Christ – as assuredly as spring follows winter.
Before coming to live in Belfast nearly 40 years ago, Mark Smith grew up in a village in rural Sussex, coming to Northern Ireland in his late teens. He is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s press officer.
If you would like to talk to someone about any of the subjects raised in this article, please email Rev Kenny Hanna at [email protected] or call him on 028 9753 1234.