Lent: Such a dreary word...or is it?
Lent: what is it? Liturgical Christians, especially those from the Western catholic tradition, have no doubt experienced the Church season of Lent. It seems to fairly drip with gloom and misery.
It starts with burning of palms, which were seems ridiculous unless you are told that these ashes are the remains of the palms worn and carried in procession on the previous Palm Sunday last year. But still, what for? We still need a lesson. Life on this mortal plane has a beginning and an ending. Birth and death, death and life are as certain as the dawn and dusk. Lent contains the kernel of hope because the word means: “Spring”.
We live in a death denying age and the avoidance of death is epidemic. I remember distinctly the death of a younger teenager when a car slipped on the ice and snow immediately after I had arrived at a new parish job. There were three sisters who seemed inseparable at times and this was the youngest. She was a very popular, an athlete and heavily involved in the school. While I was shocked, her whole school was shattered by the event. The funeral at the church could not hold all of the attendees, some standing outside in the falling snow just to be near the event and a remote screen in the church hall as well. It was the railing against reality and the stark denial of death. Our culture so focused on life and the denying of death builds “nursing homes” for the deteriorating and funeral homes for the deceased and we now need “safe-spaces” for those of us too fragile to have to “face” anything “disturbing” them.
Well, the next day that officially begins Lent is called Ash Wednesday, when the proclamation of death is the main theme. We take those same ashes no longer glorious palms but the last remnants of a life that once was. Ashes are worn on the forehead in the shape of the cross imposed with the ominous declaration; “REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST, AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN.” This is a proclamation of the gospel in and of itself. To this culture death is “bad news” but the promise of Lent is Resurrection at it culmination. Just as the seed planted in the Spring reaches it culmination in the small green sprout that has the potential to become the large plant that can bear fruit whatever that fruit may be.
Lent lasts for forty days and occurs each week at dusk on Sunday until dusk on Saturday. It reminds us of the forties in the Bible, 146 in all and is usually a time of testing. Playing on this theme, Lent is simply suggesting that denying ourselves something and take on something for those forty days. Some deny a meal, some take on a volunteer task to assist the poor or the dying. The power of denial in its true sense is a celebration of a discipline.
We live in a culture that is perishing for lack of discipline and it has been suggested that Lent is an opportune time to began some practice of a disciplined life. While the famous “giving up of chocolate” for Lent. There are other things when given up will form a habit for the betterment of a future life.
Rather than “misery for its own sake” Lent offers promise in its observance. What began with the burning of the old (palm branches) breaks forth in the new, but wil we appropriate this opportunity. I have had good Lents and not so good Lents, but the bottom line is that no serious consideration of self towards the end of a better outcome is wasted.
So my friends, this is another “God-incidence” sponsored by the Church of Jesus the Christ. Let’s not waste it but appropriate its possibilities. Let us observe a Holy Lent.