Life After Compost

For over a year, my husband and I have been collecting our food scraps. Every few days we take our collard stalks, onion skins, old tea bags, used paper towels and the like and dump then into a cylinder shaped bin made out of chicken wire that sits in our backyard.

During the summer months we add grass clippings to this pile and in the fall we add piles of fallen leaves. Over time, the food begins to break down. Nitrogen and carbon that is naturally in the food scraps, reacts with air and water and the natural heat with of the sun. Insects and worms and bacteria feast off the food scraps, to move the decomposing along. Occasionally we stir the pile so that there is another air flow and so the food scraps don’t mold, but mostly we allow nature to do its thing. The end result is healthy compost. Two Friday mornings ago, I went outside to before work to check on our compost pile. The bottom two-thirds of the pile were filled with this very soft, fluffy, rich, black compost. Every time I see the Earth work in this way it feels miraculous. That Friday morning was no exception.

Like a lot of things, over time some people have taken the miracle out of composting. They've added expensive gadgets and complicated steps. But composting isn’t something that’s new. It is a visual representation of one of the most feared truths in this world: death is inescapable. Since the beginning of creation, living things have reached a point where they have died. This is true for both plants and animals. Flesh, muscle tissue, skin, root, and leave all st some point break down into the earth, into the soil. They give of themselves so the Earth may be nourished. And this process cycles again and again.

In order for compost to work some things have to die. In the Book of John chapter 19, we are told from John’s perspective that Jesus, upon receiving the sour vinegar, draws his final breath to say: “it is finished” …. and gives up his life. Jesus is dead.

It is finished. Fortunately for us, these final words are no mystery. Throughout John Jesus has repeatedly referred to this “it.” It is his specific mission, his project here on earth. His mission is life. His vocation. John’s gospel is filled with instances where Jesus announces who he is and what he is going to do … “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly” … “I am the bread of life” … “ I am the resurrection and the life.”

As Christians, we tend to reduce life to mean heaven. In particular, as Black and African people … people who have lived (and live!) in oppressive and unjust conditions, we have developed a language around heaven in our Christian tradition that became a tool for survival. But, I think we tend to do this for a number of other reasons, too. With death and dying, there are so many real emotions. Death and dying can be discomfort, depression, and pain. It can bring anger. It can bring isolation. It can make us want to escape. But, the word that Jesus uses repeatedly in this gospel, isn’t the word heaven. Jesus does not say “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have heaven, and have it more abundantly.”

Jesus’ mission is to give us life. In the New Testament, we are given 3 different Greek words for life: bios, psyche, and zoe. The first two, bios and psyche, both describe the basic material conditions as well as the quality of life. But the word zoe goes deeper --

Zoe is the fullest, most whole, the most thriving form of life.
Zoe is life perfected.
Zoe is life liberated.
Zoe is life abundant.

Like compost, zoe cannot be created within the realm of our humanness. It is a life that is created and fashioned by God alone. Like compost, it’s life that comes by way of death.

If you have gardened here in Philly, you know that the soil here is clay like. It’s tough for plants to grow in. But by adding compost -- dead food scraps -- to soil plants are able to thrive to their fullest potential and fruits and vegetables because more nutrient dense and tasty.

It is finished. The soil is now rich. Zoe -- abundant living -- is now possible.

Thanks be to God. Amen.