Entering into the Mystery of Early Summer
In Christian poetry summer gets favorable attention while winter gets a bum rap. Winter is often regarded as an image of everything lousy about human existence, and the lousiest of all is death.
Ironically, some of the loveliest and strongest summertime images are used within the liturgy during winter. At the church’s winter festivals several customary practices jump the gun on summer. Greenery and flowers and candles and even spiced breads and drinks are used to make it seem as if death has taken a holiday.
In the words of several traditional Christmas carols, nightingales return from their winter roosts and chase the night away with song. Thorny brambles burst into roses. The stable is filled with Maytime perfumes that beguile the senses and invite all creatures to drink deeply of Christ, as a bee is beguiled by a flower’s fragrant nectar.
The language of liturgy delights in opposites and in contrasts as images of paradox. Expressions of paradox can make daunting concepts accessible and even charming. Paradox is a fitting image of the incarnation of God in human flesh and blood, of what a Renaissance lyric described as “summer in winter and day in night’, of what the poet G.K.Chesterson called the “things that cannot be, and that are.”
So, what do the liturgical poets have to say when summer finally rolls around, when the year has completed the passage from dark December to June’s bright verdure? Summer images, for the poets, are signs of the “fullness of life” promised by the Lord, a (literally) wholesome life to be lived now and not only in the future. The fullness of life is a birthright bequeathed by baptism.
The season’s warmth and bounty and light make the world more hospitable and life-sustaining. In this, summer has become for the church an image (reflecting Revelation 22) of our existence in heaven, within God’s holy city, that place of abundance and healing and endless day. Just as the cold months evoke homey images of “cocooning,” the warm months are a time for opening windows, opening doors, getting outside, travelling, visiting, family vacations, pilgrimage.
From: School Year Church Year Customs and Decorations for the Classroom by Peter Mazar