Great Lent begins tomorrow, and before getting into everything else Lent has come to mean, it is important to remember that the word Lent simply means Spring (from old English). This makes intuitive sense because the 40-day season of Lent does in fact always coincide with the first half of Spring, the season where everything in God’s creation is pruned, and nurtured from the temporary death of Winter unto new life. Well in Florida Spring comes a little early, and Narek and I have been taking advantage of the nice weather by doing a bit of yard work. We still had some dead grass and damaged flower beds from hurricane Irma, so we pruned some branches, dug out the old grass, and laid on some new; watered it, mulched it and water it still every day. And just as my son and I pruned and cultivated the trees and grass to new life in the Spring season, our Lenten season is the time where a person can prune away dead ends and cultivate the soil for new abundant life. Spring is for the greening of the earth and Lent is for the greening of the human soul–pruned with repentance, fertilized with fasting, watered with prayer.
Now, I think that a lot of people don’t do too much different in this church for Lent, and I get that. I myself am not the best faster, once a year I find myself half-way through a hamburger before I recall that it’s Lent and I am fasting. But though I am not great at some of the outer disciplines of Lent, I am a big believer in inner results. I have seen how Lent has helped strip away things that have held me back in my life, and grown me to be a little more myself and a little closer to God. So if Lent hasn’t been something you have applied yourself to, perhaps you will want to give it another try this year. For Lent is very natural in addition to being super-natural. It really is nothing more than spring cleaning for the soul. And whether you are a plant or a person, blossoming to new life always begins with cutting away excess, pruning and peeling off old layers.
So that is why we take a good long time at Lent, 40 days, to try and prune some of our dead branches, to take a few weeks to choose to live on less, not more–of practicing subtraction instead of addition. Not because our everyday life is bad, but because we want to make sure it is our real life–the one we long to be living–which can be hard to do when we’re rushing through our life. When we are just going through the motions and dealing with the unrelenting busyness of each day, I think we start to lose touch with who we really are, and who God made us to be. Without getting back to our core, and our first loves, it’s too easy to let secondary things define us; degrees, awards, jobs, clothes, families, cars, houses, hobbies. Much of this is good stuff, but it pales in comparison to who we really are.
Because, at heart, when you peel away everything else, our primary identity in this life is as a child of God. That’s the essence of who we are and why we’re here. It’s that simple. Yet we add so many layers over the course of our lifetimes, that this is easy to forget. The great power of Lent is that it allows us to strip away the layers and return to the natural beauty of our humanity. If you look around our yard next to our new grass you will some old but beautiful benches that need repainting. If you’ve ever tried stripping the paint off an old piece of furniture, you know it’s hard work. Many of the layers seem permanent and it takes much effort to get down to the wood. But with hard work and patience, soon the original beauty begins to shine through. I have found Lent to be just like that; sometimes it feels like nothing is happening, but with patient endurance, at some point something beautiful and permanent comes through.
So how do you begin stripping away the unnecessary layers during Lent? How do you return to your true identity as God’s beloved? Well we make a commitment to some Lenten discipline-not giving up donuts or Doritos but something like setting aside time for daily prayer or spending 10 minutes a day reading Scripture or coming to our Lenten sermon series beginning next Sunday. When you do this, you begin to get back to your true identity and God has a chance to help you in this. You start chipping away at all of the less important ways that others value you, that you value yourself, and get in touch with our infinite value as sons and daughters of God.
Whether you are a plant or animal, Spring is the time where we prune off old ways and attachments, trusting in God’s gifts of new life. Look all around you, in your yard or at the park and you will see that God has baked into his creation a season where old things die so that new growth may take place. I pray that this Season of Lent be a Springtime for your soul, where pruning away what is no longer living, we might recover our core selves, by God’s grace, blossom in new directions we may have never thought possible; now and always; amen.