Lent. A four-letter word and a 40 day season in the church year, at least in what I have heard referred to as liturgical churches. Because I serve in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we observe the season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Maundy Thursday and culminating with the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
No one celebrates Lent. There are no Lent parties. Yet, we don’t really observe the season of Lent either, because to observe is to passively watch something happen. We participate in this season of repentance and contemplation with music written in a minor key, an additional service during the week, and the Lenten disciplines of fasting, giving of alms (or contributing to specific causes, such as World Hunger), and prayer.
While all of this may seem a bit depressing or moody, Lent is one of my favorite seasons, because, in the Northern Hemisphere, it coincides with the change of seasons around us, and we can literally watch the journey of this season from the death of winter to the new life of spring.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have experienced wide swings in temperature, but mostly a trend of warming. This means that I spend time wandering around my yard and garden, hoping to see glimpses of new life. I peel back mulch from the 600 cloves of garlic I planted just weeks before the ground froze last fall, hoping to see green shoots. I gently dig around the area where the rhubarb I transplanted last summer wilted with the first hard freeze and find light pink and green buds, revealing that the crowns are ready to burst forth as the days grow longer and warmer. I planted carrots, radishes, beets, and peas with my kids last week in the garden and Lydia asks me almost every day, “Dad, are they up yet? When will they be up?”
Lent is a season of preparation in the church. Historically, those preparing for baptism spend this time in learning the tenets of Christian faith as they prepare to enter into the body of Christ at the Easter Vigil or on Easter morning through the sacrament of holy baptism. In this season we prepare to celebrate the resurrection – not only the celebration of Easter – but the parousia, the second coming of Christ and the return and resurrection he promised at the ascension, 40 days after his resurrection.
So, if this season seems moody or dark, I encourage you to dwell in the darkness as we prepare for celebration. In the darkness, look for signs of new life in the world around you as the cycle of the liturgical seasons and natural seasons find harmony in God’s creation. May you find comfort and grace in knowing that God brings life out of death. That if you are in a dark place or are struggling, this season and its resolution remind us of the promise that in these times, God does not abandon. God walks with us and brings us to new life.