(I wrote this post, as you can see, two days ago. I felt like I should sit on it and let it simmer before I hit “publish.)
It’s Palm Sunday afternoon, 2020. We have never seen a Holy Week like this one.
I’m holding Sunday School classes via Zoom, which is a wonderful gift in the stay-at-home world we inhabit. I “attended” worship online and am grateful for all the dedicated pastors and staffs putting together a modicum of a worship environment online. Many of you are regularly putting thoughtful and encouraging words in social media. Thank you.
And I’ve been thinking, praying, reading, and thinking some more.
This morning as I was reading the Bible, a scripture-laced thought – from another passage that I was not reading – came to mind: “His winnowing fork is in his hand.” These words come from John the Baptizer (Matthew 3 and Luke 3) as he called people to repentance in preparation for the Lord’s coming. He proclaims, “One more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat…”
“His winnowing fork is in his hand.” When this word came to me as I was reading/praying, I thought of the sinister implications, of a future time of final judgment. Doomsdayers and others who seem to revel in speculating on God’s final reckoning use language like this. I am not and don’t want to be understood as though I am. Still, this pandemic affords us an important moment for self-reflection. We can stop looking for scapegoats as to the cause of the virus. Whatever else God might be doing during this time, he is calling us to penitent reflectiveness. We should be doing it anyway. It’s Lent.
“His winnowing fork is in his hand.” I come from farming country and I always enjoy scripture’s agricultural metaphors. This one, as many know, relates to harvest, which is always an exciting and rather nerve-wracking time. Having gathered the crop, farmers in ancient days used wind winnowing to separate the wheat from the chaff. The wheat berry is surrounded by a sliver of dry husk that has to be separated from the wheat. After threshing, which got most of the big stuff out of the way, harvesters used either a fork or a basket to toss the wheat up into the wind. The wind blows through the tossed wheat and the chaff, which is very light, dislodges from the wheat in the action of winnowing. The wheat falls to the ground into a nice pile of relatively clean, useable grain.
Winnowing separates the good and useful from the worthless. It cleans.
“His winnowing fork is in his hand.” The metaphor is perfect for what Christ does.
There will come a time when God does this work of separating in a final sense, those whose names are written in the Book of Life from those whose aren’t. I gladly leave that work to the Divine Lawgiver and Judge. I am interested in the separating that God is doing right now. “His winnowing fork is in his hand” applies to us now and to the contents of our hearts. Some separating needs to happen. The chaff (sin) needs to go. The good fruit needs to emerge. The world needs Christians to be more like Christ.
“His winnowing fork is in his hand.” Winnow away, Lord. Winnow away.