In the Thick of Lent
It’s funny to me that spring is at once bursting with promise and notoriously lean. The bursting-with-promise part is easy to imagine as spring bulbs begin to pop up everywhere. However, the notoriously lean part only occurred to me after reading (or re-reading) one of my favorite non-fiction books, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. The second-to-last chapter in Kingsolver’s book about eating locally with her family for a year is entitled “Hungry Month: February-March.” She writes:
“January is widely held to be the bugbear of local food, but the hungriest month is March, if you plan to see this thing through. Your stores are dwindling, your potatoes are sending pale feelers out into the void, but for most of us there is nothing new under the sun of muddy March, however it might intend to go out like a lamb. A few spring wildflowers, maybe, but no real eats. Our family was getting down to the bottom of our barrel” (322).
When I take my almost daily walks, it doesn’t look like spring will ever come. The grass is dank and yellowed and it’s hard to imagine it will ever be lush and green or that the trees will ever have blossoms and leaves. If you really do live off the land and what you have to eat is all in your freezer and root cellar, you have to be creative with what you have left. The root veggies of winter are wrinkled and woody and the asparagus, lettuce, and spinach of spring are only just beginning. It’s an awkward, in-between time.
I’m definitely in the thick of my Lenten discipline of fasting from dessert. We’re already almost five weeks from Ash Wednesday, but we’re still two weeks from Easter. For one deprived of sugar on a daily basis, Easter seems especially distant. If I’m honest with myself, I am longing for Easter, but I also like that Easter feels distant and that my deprivation weighs on me and temptation surrounds me. These are the necessary and even, dare I say, good rigors of Lent. I love that the Church Year acknowledges the times in the course of a normal human life that are in limbo. It’s not winter and not yet spring. It’s not Christmas and not yet Easter. Primroses on racks outside the grocery store and royal purple crocuses are the only harbingers of spring.
That makes me wonder about the harbingers of Easter. When we look to Jesus’ life and ministry, I would say baptism, temptation, cross, and grave. The road ahead of us to Easter is Lenten and is so very like this time between winter and spring. Where there is life after Easter and spring, we see only death during Lent. Yellowed grass and gnarled trees. Temptation and deprivation. Sin and selfishness.
But the great news about Easter is that it radically changes everything, and it’s not just the appearance of things that change. It’s not just that the grass becomes green and lush and the trees bud and the flowers bloom. It’s not just that I can once again eat cookies and ice cream. It’s that our very nature changes.
“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ…for when we died with Christ [in baptism] we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Romans 6:6-8).
Temptation gives way to victory. Darkness becomes light. Death leads to life. And, best of all, the crucified Christ becomes the Risen Christ.