I don’t know about you, but this Lenten season has felt like the longest one EVER. It only lasts six weeks, but it’s felt like six months. I’m starting to question the justification for observing this gosh-darn season. Can’t it be more like Advent? You know, two weeks shorter, a lot less ashes and thorns, a lot more twinkly lights and presents. It would make Lent a much easier sell, that’s for sure.
One reason could be that Lent started so late this year. Usually by the time we get to April, we’re so close to Easter we can smell the lilies. But with Easter being so late this year, we’re into our third week of April and I’m still picking up palm branches. Or maybe Lent has felt so long this year because Spring has been so slow in arriving. When we lived in Chicago, it was not unusual to have snow in March. In fact, one year we had to cancel our Easter Egg Hunt because of a blizzard. But I was promised when I moved to Lexington that it NEVER snowed in March. Hmph. Winter has dragged on this year like a bad romantic comedy. Just when you thought it was over, there’s one more teary tirade brought on by falling temps. Winter, how can I miss you went you WON’T GO AWAY!?!
Another reason Lent might feel so long this year is the tough subject matter we’ve been tackling during our sermons. Our theme has been “Live Like You’re Dying,” and we’ve been listening to the stories of Hospice patients to see what lessons we can learn about making our lives count. The lessons have been instructive and hopefully inspiring, but it’s not easy to be reminded on a regular basis that your life will end someday. Lent is meant to be a time of introspection and acknowledging our mortality, but six weeks’ worth of that can wear you down, emotionally and spiritually. It’s been a long Lent.
We have stretches in life like that, don’t we? We go through our own personal Lenten seasons, lasting six weeks or six months or even longer. These times can feel like perpetual winters with no signs of sunshine or the new life Spring brings. We can be mired in sadness, sorrow, and grief, constantly reminded of the pain and power of death and loss. Losing a loved one, ending a relationship, moving on from a job, battling an illness – all of these scenarios and more can thrust us into a season of never-ending Lent.
I expected to read a lot about that while I was preparing for the Lenten sermon series. I braced myself for the emotional descent that would be initiated by books about people who are dying. I assumed that spending time with Hospice patients, hearing their stories, and walking with them through their illnesses and treatments and, ultimately, their deaths would surely add to the heaviness Lent brings. Even the valuable lessons I learned – risk more, be present, forgive easily, stay connected, embrace your difficulties – all come with a cost.
But in the books I read, in the weather we experienced, in the scriptures we shared, a tiny blossom broke through the somber darkness to proclaim a life-changing word: Easter is coming. In the midst of our meteorological and emotional Polar Vortex, a ray of sunshine shone through. A promise was made to us that although weeping may last through the night, joy comes in the morning, and that winter, no matter how long it feels, can’t hold back the creative genesis of new life.
The most surprising place I saw signs of new life was in those facing death. The Hospice patients I read about were living examples of the power of God’s promises. Even though these patients knew they were going to die (and, really, don’t we all?) they didn’t let that stop them from incubating the seeds of new life – a restored relationship, a newly discovered artistic talent, a chance to say “I love you” one more time. For them, the proclamation had meaning on both sides of the grave: Easter is coming.
It’s been a long Lent, and we still have the darkest part of the road ahead of us. But God has been and is with us on the journey. And if you look to the horizon, you might start to see a glow penetrating through the pervasive darkness. Could it be? Yes! It’s the sun, rising once again, reminding us that winter doesn’t last forever, that death doesn’t have the final word, and that even our seasons of Lent, painful as they may be, end with a rolled-away stone and shouts of “He is risen indeed!”