Of all the cathedrals I visited during my summer in Amsterdam, I will always remember a little chapel as the most unexpectedly sacred. Most of the cathedrals I had seen were renowned as historical landmarks and tourist hotspots, but divorced from their original purpose of worship. These sanctuaries did not welcome God’s presence anymore, and instead they felt haunted by His absence.
But this chapel was different. It is actually in Belgium, part of the Beguinage in Bruges, a community for Benedictine sisters who still live there today. The chapel was small, modest, with unadorned plaster ceilings and simple wooden benches inside. But what struck me the most was the grove of poplar trees just outside in the courtyard—none of them grew upright. Every tree’s trunk was angled toward the sanctuary, as if there were some gravitational pull toward that holy place, and the trees were bowing in leafy reverence.
As Christians, we don’t often think about the earth worshiping its Creator as we do. But this year for the first time, April 22nd happens to host a curious convergence of days: Good Friday, the commemoration of our Savior’s crucifixion and death, and Earth Day, the celebration and renewal of environmental concerns. This calendar collision has caused a divergence of opinion in the church, with some who reject Earth Day as “petty politics” which should not be mixed with eternal reality, and some who understand this convergence of dates as profound and providential.
In my experience, Christians are far more interested in discipleship than reducing their carbon footprint. We tend to view the environmental movement with fear—regarding it as a false gospel, a gateway to pantheism. Likewise, those who champion green living march under the banner of sustainability, health, and animal rights. Talk of soul-saving doesn’t really hold appeal, because in their minds, they’re already saving the planet.
But is there really a dichotomy between faithful stewardship of the earth and the gospel? Because in my perspective, both Earth Day and Good Friday are straining ahead toward wholeness. Whole earth, whole life, whole redemption.
All of creation, the earth and humanity together, was once whole in Eden. But Adam and Eve chose to disobey their Creator, and Genesis narrates the fragmentation that resulted from their sin. Their communion with God was severed, their bodies would begin to experience decay, conflict was introduced to their formerly harmonious relationship, and the earth ceased to thrive for their harvest. Thorns took root in the ground and sin took root in our hearts.
As we look to Scripture, creation is actually in bondage just as humanity is under the effects of sin. Romans 8:22-23 says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
But Good Friday set into motion a new gravity, reversing the decay that our world was subjected to because of sin. Leslie Leyland Fields, author of The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God, says, “Colossians 1:20 reminds us that ‘Through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross…’ And on the day we celebrate his resurrection, we remember that Christ’s resurrection power is so great it will lead to the full restoration of this earth!”
Growing up my family attended a Passion Play every year on Good Friday, and I always felt that the conclusion of the evening was anti-climactic: every year, the tomb would be sealed shut, we would sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”, and we would go home. The verses of this old spiritual are composed of questions and a repeated lament, “Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” Like the song, Good Friday leaves us, in our darkest hour, with only trembling questions. And we tremble, question, and doubt until the resurrection on Easter morning.
We are all trembling and groaning, whether oil spills or aching hearts, failed crops or painful consequences of sin—these are all symptoms of a world desperately waiting for redemption. This Good Friday and Earth Day, let’s wait together, the earth and God’s children, the created crying out to the Creator.