As I write these words, tomorrow’s weather forecast is for yet another winter storm to hit New Hampshire; an “event” that if the predictions prove to be correct will include a potent mixture of snow, ice and rain.
Oy! It’s now official, friends; I am sick and tired of winter and everything that goes along with it!
Don’t get me wrong: I have always greatly enjoyed winter, especially as it unfolds here in New England; in fact, even the prospect of a good old fashioned nor’easter (and resulting snow day!) tends to usher forth my inner eight-year-old! It’s just that every year about this time, I cross that threshold where I’m more than ready for a change of seasons and the coming of spring. Suddenly, I’m weary of snow and ice and cold, and my heart begins to yearn for the sight of green grass and leafy trees! I’m wanting the new life that spring and summer brings, but here it is, still winter; and not winter, really, but the beginning of the strange “in-between” season that folks in these parts refer to as “mud season:” that distinctively undistinctive time of year when everything is gray, drab and lifeless, sidewalks and driveways are rutted with mud, and nearly every road is filled with potholes.
Actually, I’ve always thought it strangely appropriate that it’s during this particular time of the year that we in the church observe the season of Lent. It puts me in mind of something Madeleine L’Engle wrote about in The Irrational Season, one of her Crosswicks Journal books:
“LENT. Strange bleak season in the Church year; strange bleak season in the part of the world in which I live . . . I am ready for spring and spring is not here . . . I am too eager for spring. Around Crosswicks, the fields need their blanket of snow to prepare the ground for growing. In my heart, I am too eager for Easter. But, like the winter fields, my heart needs the snows of Lent.”
How very true; just as we cannot arrive at the warm and green days of springtime without plodding through March’s grey and cold, so we cannot truly celebrate the glory of Easter resurrection without first walking that Lenten pathway that leads inevitably to the betrayal, denial and death of Holy Week. This is a truth that is increasingly to be revealed in our worship about now; indeed, as a pastor and preacher I’m very much aware how there are times that this particular season of the church seems nearly steeped with foreboding, remembering as we do how Jesus’ walk of faith takes him to Jerusalem, where the hosanna shouting of the Palm Sunday parade soon morphs into the cries of an angry mob calling for his crucifixion! It’s a story of desertion, humiliation, violence and ultimately, an agonizing, excruciating death; and though it’s all part of this wonderful, incredible story that is our faith, this is an unbearably hard part of the story both to hear and to tell. In truth, we’d much rather skip to the story’s glorious ending; even now, we’d much rather simply sing the hymns of victory and enjoy the sight and fragrance of a sanctuary full of tulips and lilies!
Simply put, we want joy; we want celebration: we want Easter!
But before we can get there, there’s Lent, and the horrific and yet redemptive reality that we must face as Christians: that our Lord died an agonizing death upon a cross at the hands of a sinful humanity and went to this cross willingly out of infinite and saving love. Indeed, there is no Easter without Good Friday; no rising again until there has been a crucifixion; a truth that takes on even more personal significance when we consider how Jesus himself says if we want to become his followers, we are to take up our own crosses and go where he goes.
Simply put, our hearts need this journey of Lent! Spiritually speaking, we need to die with Christ – truly experiencing the sacrifice Christ made for us – so that we might know the true life, abundant and eternal, that comes in reconciliation with God. We need to do more than simply retell this “old, old story;” we have to make the story our own. Lent needs to be more than just the 40 some-odd days leading up to Easter Sunday, but rather the seized opportunity to deepen a relationship with Christ; a fresh chance to set a discipline of personal prayer and meditation; to embrace “the act and attitude” of shared worship and the study of God’s word. It’s time to get ourselves back to the work of God’s kingdom, both in the ways we direct our own lives and in the ways we seek to dwell together as families, a community and as the church. And it’s our mandate to renew ourselves as God’s people, embracing this understanding that as we walk with Jesus, we walk with him to the cross; and only by walking with him through death that we walk with him into new life.
Fear not, friends, for spring will come… eventually. Yes, there are still some grey, wintery days yet to come, but as my father was wont to say, all the snowstorms from here on out serve as “poor man’s fertilizer” for spring planting! Likewise, Easter is coming, and before long we know its resurrection glory. For now, however, it is Lent, and our difficult journey toward Jerusalem and the cross of Golgotha awaits. So let us walk, knowing that as difficult as the way ahead is going to be, we are assured that the green of God’s abundant and eternal spring will be there at the end of the journey.
c. 2014 Rev. Michael W. Lowry