Ministerial Musings: "On Lent"
Does the word Lent immediately conjure up images of your brother or best friend? “Hey, can you lend me fifty bucks?” (Bad joke.) The word Lent, which describes the forty day penitential Christian season before Easter, comes from the German (Lenz) and Dutch (lente) words for spring. It also relates to the Germanic root word meaning long. That makes sense: in the spring the days lengthen. It will probably be a long time before your brother gives you your $50 back, too. (Sorry.)
But long is the right idea here. Forty days. After being baptized, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan to prepare for his public ministry. That makes one think of the 40 days and 40 nights of rain that sent Noah, his family, and his menagerie adrift. In both the biblical Hebrew and Greek, the number forty is significant: it means a really long time. Forty days of rain means, “It rained a really long time.” (Think of winters in Cleveland.) Forty days of fasting would kill practically anyone. Maybe the writers of the Gospels simply meant, “Jesus fasted for a really long time.”
We traverse our own Lenten journeys — and some of them last a really long time. (Stony the road we trod, to borrow that African-American expression.) Is there anyone with whom you are estranged — and I am not just referring to the friend who owes you half-a-Benjamin? I can testify from personal experience that having a falling-out with a relative or friend sits on the soul like lead. It haunts the mind. It is dark and dank.
But the Lenten path comes to an end. We do not remain in the dryness of Eliot’s wasteland forever. The road twists and turns through the arid landscape, but it eventually arrives at an oasis: an empty tomb. What we find there defies our expectations. Christ risen? God shattering the bonds of death to bring new life out of buried hopes? Yes! That is the good news.
The good news is also that we can also make manifest the resurrection in our lives. Through the omnipresent power of the Holy Spirit, we can mend the brokenness that dampens our spirits. We can rectify the relationships that have fallen apart or by the wayside. Christ came to make all things new — and that includes us and those we love.
Walk your Lenten paths, my friends. Just know that the road does not end where it began.
John Tamilio III is the religion columnist for The Lakewood Observer and the Senior Pastor of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in the Tremont neighborhood. A professional writer and musician, JT3 lives in Lakewood with his wife and their three children.