They Know

“Hear the birds? They know. They know.”

My pastor said that one morning during an Easter sunrise service when I was growing up. Actually he said it more than once—probably not every Easter, but enough that it eventually felt to me like a regular part of the sunrise service.

We’d start the brief service in the sanctuary with Scripture, hymns, and a short sermon, then we’d head out to the cemetery for prayers and more hymns. That was always my favorite part of the service. Amidst the graves of our church’s departed, beside three big wooden crosses, we sang of Resurrection and celebrated Jesus’ victory over death. Inevitably we’d hear birds singing too as we walked to the cemetery. “The birds know,” my pastor said. “Hear them singing? They know.”

My church in Nashville has a sunrise service too, but our family missed it this year. With 3 small kids, it’s very hard to get everyone out of the house in time. So we went to the late service, which was standing-room-only. I left after the sermon to get our daughter from the nursery so she could join us for Communion. It was a pretty morning, so I took a little detour outside to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. On my way, I heard the birds singing and smiled as I remembered my pastor’s words. I paused and said a prayer, thanking God for this day of Resurrection and the witness of nature, of the birds who sing for their risen Lord. “Hear the birds? They know.”

As I prayed I turned my face up toward the sun, felt its warmth on my skin. “Feel the sun?” I thought. “It knows too.”

I let my mind run with that idea, let it lift up my imagination this Easter morning. The sun in all its brilliance knows that Christ is risen. So do the leaves rustling in the trees, the breeze that stirs them, and all the other trappings of spring. So does the moon on its course, the planets following their orbits, the largest asteroid and the smallest speck of interplanetary dust tumbling through space.

Of course, the heavenly bodies always move and the sun shines every day. The birds sing every morning. Easter is not for them a departure from the ordinary. But that’s the very essence of their Easter celebration. Their ongoing obedience to the laws of nature reminds us humans, who forget it sometimes, that the Author of those laws lives even though he hung on a cross and was buried three days. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” the Psalmist writes. “Hear the birds?” my pastor said. “Feel the sun,” I thought. Nature bears witness to Easter for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

The sun that warmed my face is 93 million miles away from the earth. In its fiery heart, hydrogen fuses into helium and helium into heavier elements on a massive scale. Nuclear energy balances with gravity. Planets, asteroids, comets spin as they go around it. Year after year, day after day, second after second, nanosecond after nanosecond, the process continues.

It’s all an endless act of praise, has been since before the world existed, when the sun was still just a cloud of gas slowly but surely contracting in response to gravity. Every nucleus being fused, every photon released, every electron excited—I’m convinced these creatures bear witness to Easter every bit as much as we do with our hymns and prayers. Every particle flashing into and out of existence in interstellar space proclaims death and resurrection. We Easter people do no more and no less than join our song with theirs on Sunday morning, lifting up our hearts in worship and praise of the Creator whose handiwork is staggering in its beauty and immensity.

Hear the birds? They know. Do you?

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