Oh Magnolia

If you want to climb a tree, go find a Magnolia. They are squat and sturdy, and you never have to look for the next limb to step onto. They’re everywhere, branching almost horizontally in a 360 degree radius around the trunk. Climbing these trees is not just kids’ sport either.  Last spring, hidden from the goings-on below on Roanoke’s campus, I spent at least a half hour watching students and faculty pass by. Granted, I was wearing corduroy overall and pigtails, feeling rather whimsical. So maybe most normal adults don’t climb magnolias, but I challenge you to try it. Take my word of caution, though.  Limb by limb, it is easy to get way higher than you originally intended; the descent can be surprisingly treacherous.
Can you see me?? Upper left quadrant.
Apparently, the flower on this tree is ancient. Bees weren’t even around when it began popping up; it depended on beetles for pollination, so it has a tough, waxy outer coating to prevent the beetles from eating or damaging it. It is beautiful and surprisingly strong.
A great gal named Ellie Holcomb sings about this magnolia.
Oh Magnolia, won’t you please come home?
Oh Magnolia, you don’t have to walk alone.
Oh Magnolia, won’t you rest your head on my shoulder?
On the surface, it’s just a really sweet song. (Check it out here.) Listen again. She is not just singing about a flower. She sings as if God is talking directly to her. She has been working hard, trying to make things in her life “right.” She is alone, tangled in burdens, distractions, and failures. This magnolia, her heart, is exhausted and lost.
All along the way, Jesus keeps on talking to her, forever faithful.
I’m right here, waiting on you. I’ll take your burdens. Come back to me. Walk with me.
Last week, a lot of people, many of whom are de-churched, twice-a-year Christians, came together to celebrate a little something known as Easter.  Under the white tent at Boone Hall, I observed their discomfort. They stood stiffly, hands awkwardly shoved in their seer-sucker pockets during worship, passive during the sermon. They are tired of religion, of rules and not measuring up. The church failed them long ago. Their family has hurt them, their job hasn’t provided. They go and go and go, seeking fulfillment, eternally unfulfilled. And they’re tired.
If that broad “they” sounds like you, I’m right there with you. Easter felt like a pretty passive, unimportant day. For being a part of it my whole life, I don’t always get the church. I see the ways people mess up and hurt each other. They have for all eternity, and they will continue to. I see my natural inclination to walk away and find fulfillment in my school work and leadership positions.  So far, I still haven’t been fulfilled. The world is not faithful; in the end, it will always let you down.
So, I, too, am a magnolia. Like its coat of wax, I have built up layers of defense against the world. I burrow into school and schedules where I feel safe. Sometimes I don’t engage in relationships because of the messiness that comes with them. Better to be clean. Don’t share your life. Not totally, anyway. What about other people’s problems? What am I supposed to do with their junk? I am one weak branch, distantly connected to the roots.
But this Jesus, he engages the mess. He took the junk, and last week we gave thanks for the greatest gift ever. Grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. When he rose from the grave, Jesus became accessible. He is alive – a living person who keeps taking our crap, who keeps calling his magnolia back to him. Over and over and over.
I’m right here, waiting on you. I’ll take your burdens. Come back to me. Walk with me.
You are precious to me, and I love you.
This invitation he offers, that sounds life-giving. I want that companion. Because of the resurrection, I have Him. You can too.
Lord, I wish I didn’t leave your side, but I do. So once again, your magnolia is coming home.