Last week, I asked the congregation for a show of hands: “Who’s looking forward to Lent?” Not a hand shot up. That’s not surprising. Lent is known as the season to give up things you really, really like, so you can get them back again at Easter and be glad. That’s the way it was presented to me as a child…that, plus the idea that I was sharing in the suffering of Christ as he spent 40 days in the desert with wild things.
But there’s another way of looking at it – one that makes more sense to me, personally. The inspiration for this new way of approaching Lent comes from its name. “Lent” is an old English word for spring. The very mention of spring conjures up images of fresh flowers popping through the remnants of snow (I'm a transplanted New Yorker) …vibrant colors, warming breezes – life returning. Love. Like the Song of Solomon:
“My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come … Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2: 10-12, 13b)
In spring, in Lent, we “come away” to be with our beloved, who is God. That is how it happened with Jesus. He was baptized, heard the voice of God calling him his beloved. And after that, God’s Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness… where he meditated…and met that other guy. When Jesus emerged from the wilderness, he was ready to do the work of the Messiah. We can replicate that experience in our own lives. We can let the Holy Spirit guide us into the wilderness that is right for us. It may be the wilderness of facing an unhealthy diet, and the way it impedes our functioning fully as the arms and legs and heart of Christ in our world today. It may be the wilderness of facing our own ego demands, and how they sometimes prevent us from working cooperatively, or from admitting that we have made a mistake. The wilderness can be a memory that is painful to recall -- but is begging to be healed and released. The wilderness is frightening territory for us, filled with areas that are tender to the touch, areas we would prefer to repress in some safe and dark place in our psyche. But we are children of the Light. There is nothing about us, or in us, that we cannot face. We go into our wilderness with God who guides us there – and stays with us until the work is done. There are always angels just outside our peripheral vision, waiting to help us. And at the end of our forty days, we emerge ready to continue the work of the Messiah.
Look around at your world. What might you do to help? What keeps you from helping? Arise, my fair one; winter is past, and the time for creating life and beauty has come. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away… Shed what holds you back from fulfilling your purpose in life. Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is February 22nd. Come away. And when you return, you will make your world better.