When Steve and I had been married about two years, we decided it was time to try and have children. We both wanted children and were excited about this potential new chapter in our lives. After several months of trying without any success, I went to the doctor who ran some tests on me and concluded that all was normal. He advised patience and, as he was walking out the door, casually suggested Steve be tested just in case. After talking with Steve, we agreed he should be tested and soon found out that Steve had infertility issues. But, thanks to modern science, we could undergo IVF, In Vitro Fertilization, in an attempt to have children. And so we did.
We began the process only to have it interrupted midway through due to medical complications. We waited a few months and were cleared to try again. It was springtime and as the world was renewed with flowers blooming, trees budding, and our family, church, and friends holding us up in prayer, we began a second series of thrice daily injections, travel to Birmingham on a weekly basis, and lots of blood work. Finally the day arrived for the harvesting and transfer processes. Steve would undergo his procedure first and then a complimentary procedure would be performed on me.
That night, I had a dream I like to call “The Baby Tree”. Basically, I dreamed that Steve and I were walking in a park and came upon what we thought was a magnolia tree. But, as we watched it bud and bloom, we noticed that each bud was either blue or pink and as the bud bloomed out, we realized they were not flowers but babies. There were other people around plucking their own blooms and we soon realized that one of the pink blooms was for us. By the time she was ready to be plucked, most of our family had gathered and excitedly asking the baby’s name, to which the baby began to chirp, “BB, BB.” I awoke from the dream knowing it was a sign that we were going to have a little girl. But, I dared not tell Steve just in case I was wrong.
On the way to Birmingham for our procedures, still glowing in the knowledge of the dream, a second sign—one so obvious it almost killed us—happened at the intersection of 459 and 280 right where you get off to go to The Summit. We were the first car stopped at the traffic light and once it changed, we started through the turn on to 280 when Steve noticed a pink dump truck, which had apparently lost its brakes, barrel through. He stopped just in time to avoid a collision—and we both looked meaningfully at each other, knowing it to be a sign that the IVF would be successful and we would have a little girl.
Three days after the IVF transfer, we were headed back to Birmingham to see if the transfer had been successful. As we backed out of the driveway, I noticed a pink rose poking out of our mailbox. It was Mother’s Day and one of our St. Paul’s youth, Mary Martin, had put it there with a kind note expressing her thoughts and prayers for us: the third sign.
So, it was with extreme disappointment that I learned how wrong I had been in putting my faith into “the signs”. The procedure had not worked and would not work even through our third and final attempt. My faith in “signs” was shaken though my faith in the church, through the love and prayers of the body of Christ, was strengthened. I struggled with my belief in signs for several years after that. I had been so sure—the dream, the dump truck, and the rose had all been so strategically placed it couldn’t be mere coincidence, it felt more divine than that.
And then one day, it dawned on me. The dream, the truck, the flower were not mere fortune telling signs showing me my future. They were signs of the divine, signs that God had been present all around us throughout that experience—through our trials the signs had kept us focused on God, on hope.
Too often we hear of signs and think of them in terms of divination—shape-shifting tarot cards that appear to us in significant situations opening a window into our future. But I don’t think that is what the signs of God are really about. Over and over again in John’s Gospel, a Gospel that could easily have been called the Book of Signs, we read descriptions of Jesus’ miraculous works that John deems as signs.
Each of those signs is accompanied by conversion—Jesus performs a sign and people are brought to faith, they believe in him. After Jesus turns the water into wine, “the first of his signs…and revealed his glory…his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) The healing of the royal official’s son leads to the official and his whole household believing—the second sign. (John 4:53-54) When Lazarus was raised from the dead, many of the Jews witnessed—what even the Pharisees called a sign—and believed.
Sometimes the signs will ease doubt, like in Thomas’s case this morning, but at other times the signs become too much and people turn away. After the feeding of the 5000 Jesus recognizes that many of the people who are following him do so, not because they understand the miracle as a sign of his divine nature, but because he fed them. He tells them to not work for the food that perishes but for the food that gives eternal life and identifies himself as the bread of life. For many, this was too much. John says, “[m]any of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” (John 6:66) They had misread the sign. For them the fishes and loaves were a sign that they would never be hungry again and wouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal would come from if they continued hanging out with this fellow named Jesus. Of course! The signs mean we are going to have a baby girl! But what the Jews and I did not realize was that the signs are never about us. They are always about God. We may try to interpret the signs to mean many things, but the truth is that the signs, whether miraculous or mundane, are always, always about God and his presence with us.
Jesus did and continues to do many signs in the presence of those who believe and even in the presence of those who do not believe. Some of those signs are awe-inspiring and miraculous and some are simple and everyday, but they are always signs of his presence; done so we might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Creator and Giver of life. He will always be with us even if his physical presence has left this earthly existence. We will know him by the signs—the birth of a baby, new life in the spring, the strong hand of one who leads an old man safely to his bed, a dying man’s family gathered around him in the last breaths of his life, a pink rose sticking out of a mailbox—and in knowing him we will have life in his name.
2 Easter Year C: Acts 5:27-32; Ps 150; Rvltn 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, April 28, 2019
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer