It was a Sabbath day. I wound my 10-year-old Subaru through the hairpin twists of the Angeles Crest Highway. With each turn I rose up above the city … farther away from the smog, the horns, the rage that pulsed through the roads, farther from the worship bands that were really auditioning every Sunday for the music mogul who just might be in the audience, far away from Starbucks and Target, far away until I reached my secret spot. I got out of the car and sat on the warm hood, overlooking a great ravine.
Then … I heard the birds … then water trickling over rocks.
“Worship,” I thought. “That’s what I want to do.”
So, I opened my mouth and sang my favorite worship song.
I love you Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship you
Oh, my soul
Take joy my king
In what you hear
And I suddenly had the strange feeling that I was not alone. I felt it. I felt creation worshiping with me.
Psalm 96:11-13a says:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord;
How about that? David felt it, too.
And as I worshiped I realized creation wasn’t singing with me. I had entered into creation’s ongoing worship of God!
But Scripture speaks of another utterance of nature — a groaning. (Romans 8:19-22) Even as creation worships, it bears the weight of our sin. Our addiction to consumption, our oil drills and oil spills, and our depleted uranium bullets whizzing through theaters of war in countries ravaged, torn apart — both the people and the land. Creation is groaning, even as the trees lift their branches heavenward in worship.
The Genesis 2 story of creation offers a profound picture of humanity’s relationship with the rest of creation in the beginning. In Genesis 2:15 God called humanity to till and keep the Garden of Eden. The Hebrew word for “till” (‘abad) is also translated “to serve” (as a bond servant). The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) is most accurately translated “to protect.” Thus, we were called to serve and protect the rest of creation. In the very beginning of our existence, we related to the land as its servants — its protectors. That relationship was full of care, nurture, security, and selfless service.
Then came the Fall. Humanity grabbed at its own peace and creation was cursed. The story goes: the man and woman took of the tree and ate and the animals were cursed and the land was cursed. And hundreds of generations later we are still grabbing at our own kind of peace —
Think: Keystone Pipeline
Think: West Virginia oil spill.
Think: Coal ash spill in North Carolina.
Consider the fish we were supposed to be protecting and serving.
Consider the fowl and the frogs now belly up, heads sunk beneath black sludge.
Consider the cancer — oh, the cancer — creeping up and taking over whole communities, black communities, brown communities, poor white communities, artist communities, farming communities … until finally oil giants demand “Not in my back yard.”
Remember the wars we’ve fought just to fill our cars.
I remember watching a soldier in an interview at the start of the Iraq War. He was proud. He was strong. He was determined to fight for his country. The reporter asked him how he felt about the war. I’ll never forget what he said … and how he said it: “I’m proud to be an American! And if I have to come over here and die for my country — die to keep a few cents off the receipt at the gas tank. (Awkward pause) I’m willing to do that.” (Silence) He just stared into space.
And creation is groaning.
There will come a time when the earth will “bring forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause justice and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)
There will come a time when: “Truth will spring up from the ground, and justice will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Justice will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.” (Psalm 85:10-13)
And there will come a time when: “they shall beat their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.” (Micah 4:4)
And Jesus entered the desert — the wilderness, the place of wandering, the barren place, the place where the curse is everywhere, the groaning place.
And Creator God in the flesh walked on cursed land and God felt the groans.
And Jesus left the wilderness and entered the synagogue and opened the book to Isaiah 61 and said, “It’s on!” (my paraphrase)
That is what Lent is about.
It is the hinge point of history.
In the barren place the curse is confronted and God reminds us of the promise. This earth will “bring forth its shoots.”
And so creation worships!
Listen for the groans that come forth from the ground this Lenten season.
Then emerge from that barren place worshiping!
Lisa Sharon Harper is senior director of mobilizing for Sojourners and the author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican…or Democrat .