International Ministries

Lent... lengten... lengthen...

February 18, 2010 Journal
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I love this part of the year.  Not because of the snow and cold--both of which we still have in abundance here in Royersford.  Nor because I am a particularly saintly practitioner of the disciplines of Lent (the period of forty days that followers of Jesus traditionally use to prepare for the celebrations of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday). 

I feel like I really should be one of those devout persons who use Lent each year for some more intentional turning toward the Lord and the model of life he gave us during his earthly ministry.  But my sense of "should" is usually not enough to carry me beyond "good intentions" to the point of action.  So, I am not a good model for effective observance of Lent.

No, my enthusiasm for this time of year is simpler... and perhaps more primal.  But it does connect with Lent.

Have you ever wondered why we call the forty days of preparation for the climactic celebrations of Holy Week, "Lent"?  I wondered about that this week, since I've just been in Spanish-speaking contexts.  There the term is more immediately descriptive:  Lent is "Cuaresma," a shortened form of the Latin word for fortieth, quadragesima.  So I wondered, why do we call this period "Lent," and what does it mean?

I could have walked to the living room and pulled our trusty dictionary off the shelf.  But hey, it is 2010, after all.  So here is what has to say:  "lent" comes from Middle English lente, which meant spring.  That might leave us guessing.  But the connection gets clearer when we see that lente came from Old English lencten or lengten... which, even without the help of (or or the other Internet oracles), we can spot as a reference to the fact that during this part of the year in the northern hemisphere, our days are lengthening.

And that is what I love about this time of year.  Even as the snow continues to fall and drift about us, each day I notice--and marvel at... and delight in!--the fact that there is just a little more daylight.  For me, this is one of life's simple, but very real pleasures.  I may have to struggle with other feelings as we slide from the summer solstice to the winter solstice, but I revel in each additional minute of light these days!

I wonder if it was someone wired like me who began the habit of using the seasonal term, spring/lengthen, to describe this part of the church year.  Did that person connect the dots between the hope of summer and the hope of resurrection?  Did that person see in the annual celebration of Jesus' unique resurrection, a promise of the coming day in which God will wipe every tear from every eye (Revelation 7:17, 21:4)?  Did he or she sense a connection between the lengthening days and the time when, because of the resurrection, there would be no night (Revelation 21:23-25)?

However it may have been way back then, these themes do come together for me in the present.  As Tony Campolo has so famously said, though we continue to live in a Good Friday world of brokenness and suffering, "Sunday's comin'!"  As I look forward to the celebration of Easter each year, I really look past it, or perhaps through it, to the climax of redemption that Jesus' resurrection both heralded and made possible.  Now that will be a celebration!  In the meantime, I draw strength from the promise. 

Although I am not very good at Lenten disciplines, this year I am also drawing strength from another element of God's grace in my life.  Several of us are working together on a book about the approach to Bible study that we learned from a man named Paul Byer.  As I write about various experiences with Paul, his disciples and many other people around the world, working on the book has become a great opportunity to give thanks to God for all the wonderful people God has given me a chance to get to know... and to grow in grace with. 

So, part of my personal observance of Lent this year is to give thanks to God... for you!  May your own days be lengthening this season, not only in daylight, but also in God's grace and blessing.


P.S. In Royersford, we usually get more snow in March than in February.  For Cathy's sake (I'll be in Thailand and Myanmar, most of March), and given all the snow we got in February, I hope this year does not follow that pattern!