By Rev. Mindi
Lent snuck up on us, didn’t it? Only six weeks into the new year. We have finally remembered to write 16 instead of 15. And here we are, Ash Wednesday. Probably time to take the wreaths down from the door.
As you probably know, the word Lent comes from the old English “to lengthen” and refers to the lengthening of days in Spring. And there has been a lot of work to reclaim Lent by Protestants over the doom and gloom of this season that have seeped into popular understandings: fasting, giving up chocolate, eating fish—doesn’t sound appealing, does it? So now we don’t give up something, we add on something, such as a prayer practice or journaling. That doesn’t sound much better.
My husband JC, a baker, reminded me tonight that Hot Cross Buns were created as a small piece of bread (a bun), with fruit and sugar baked in it and a cross made out of fondant (all sugar). But you could eat it because it wasn’t technically a sweet, and it reminded you of the Cross. But the whole point of a Hot Cross Bun is to give you sugar when you’re not supposed to have any.
We’re always looking for ways to get out of Lent. Lent is the least appealing of the major church seasons, and many of us in free church traditions still don’t observe Lent (many American Baptist churches I know do not. I never did growing up). We have not only the baggage left to us by those who have observed Lent as a dismal season, our recent efforts to spruce it up haven’t done much more.
Growing up in Alaska, even though the days were getting darker in the fall, I looked forward to Advent, the cozy time before Christmas and the preparations. Turning into the new year still brought joy and wonder. But by February, I was sick of the darkness and the cold. The days did not get light fast enough. One really did not breathe easy until April, which in southcentral Alaska was often when the snow finally melted. April was when the land turned green and life had returned.
It was sixty degrees here in Seattle on Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. On Monday morning, I noticed the sun was out earlier, the day a little brighter. Spring is coming. But it’s still a long way off, and February, March and April seem to take so long, year after year. We are always looking for a way out of this time.*
Or maybe we are looking for a way out of the drudgery that happens, when you clock in at 9 and count the hours, then the minutes until you can clock out at 5. Or we are looking for a way to escape our now 24-hour news cycles that on leap years such as this when we are caught in the election coverage and cannot escape it. Or we are looking to escape the student loan debt we cannot pay off, or medical bills, or any bills because we don’t have enough to make ends meet. Or we are looking for a way to escape poverty, racism, discrimination, and hate. We need a way out, because we can’t see it. Not now, and not even in our future.
Easter is the way out. The open tomb. The stone rolled away.
And we want it now, but we have to wait. Six and-a-half weeks. 40 days (not counting Sundays). And then we can sing and shout and say Spring is Here. And we remember that drudgery does not have the final word. Nor does the media, or oppression, or white supremacy. Death does not have the final word, and neither does debt.
What has the final word is Life. Love. Hope.
Lent reminds us what we already know. Perhaps that is why we are trying to find our way out of it. But Lent has an end. Lent has a way out. And Lent reminds us that the way out is through Christ.
*Obviously this is a very biased Northern Hemisphere view. I wonder if our kindred in the Southern Hemisphere experience Lent differently heading into fall and winter, with Easter before the coldest months.