Clark Greenwood Voorhees, “Landscape, Early Spring”
For Sunday, March 13, 2011
First Sunday in Lent
If you live in northern climes like here in Wisconsin this can be a hard time of year. The snow is old, the sky is gray, and both seem to pull downward on one’s soul. We so long for spring to burst forth.
Western culture can feel much the same way. Television seems to love to fixate on what is old and gray. Where are the marks of joy, much less the sublime? Not here. Sure, there are the clever Google dioramas that appear periodically on that well-worn home page, but sublime? No.
Where then to go? I can think of no better place than the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. As I write this morning I am listening to Gwilym Simcock’s “Blues Vignette”. This music sings the song of the longing of my soul this morning.
As we move today from the lectionary season of Epiphany to Lent, recognize that the Lenten Spring is upon us. “Spring” is what the word ‘Lent’ actually means. The original Latin term was ‘quadragesima’, which meant “fourtieth day”. Quadragesima was in turn a translation of the original Greek term ‘tessarakoste’ (εσσαρακοστή). The idea was to mark the fourtieth day before Easter and to count down from there (1).
As believers, our faith comprises the very core of our beings around which all else turns. This is at it should be. At the center of this core is the death and resurrection of our Lord, the place from which the power of Lenten Spring bursts forth with the rising of the sun in the warming and lengthening of the days.
What then to do to overcome the gray? Strip away the dead wood to make space for new growth. How practically might this be done? Over the centuries believers have identified three key practices. The first is prayer, in which we celebrate justice toward God. The second is fasting, in which we seek justice toward self. The third is almsgiving, in which we seek justice toward our neighbors. What if this Spring the church worldwide sought justice toward God, justice toward self, and justice toward our neighbors (2)? A joyous spring indeed this would be.
So then, to what prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is the Spirit of God drawing your heart today? Rejoice: these are the marks of Lenten Spring bursting forth.
“While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. . . Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. . . Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.”
(Psalm 32, selected)