While spring ever so slowly opens budding fragrance all around, the Christian Church marks our annual season of Lent.
“Lent” in Latin literally means “slow.” Here in this lower-left corner of Canada, spring’s own rhythm matches Lent’s seven-week march toward Easter. It’s a contemplative season, inviting us to marvel at the steady annual miracle of returning life — even when wind off the slopes still cuts through fleece and scarves.
Ancient Christian practice marks Lent as time for introspection, righting our relationship with the Holy One who gave us birth and purpose. Christians recommit to the Way of Christ with a clean slate, reconciliation bursting into new life Easter morning.
There are two parts to the process.
First, we take an honest and humble look at our hearts, noting wrong turns, where we’ve hurt others. We share our regrets in prayer.
Part Two in Christian practice comes immediately afterwards. We accept spiritual assurance that we are pardoned and loved unconditionally, by the very force that created and continues to create the universe. With that immensity of welcoming love firmly rooted within, we can turn our lives around and head out to do God’s work in the world (however we see it, however we see God), feeling much lighter.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. But over the centuries, the church pressed Part One too far, crushing any sense we’d ever be worthy of anyone’s love — let alone God’s. In that dark place, we are paralyzed with guilt.
So we chucked the guilt, along with confession and the practice of being honest about ourselves (Part One). And we still stumble on Part Two: we can’t accept our own self-worth. Worse for the world, we can’t give to others when we carry unacknowledged burdens in the heart.
Two joyous Sundays end Lent, bookending Holy Week’s story of Jesus walking to death on the cross.
On Palm Sunday, alongside the Jerusalem crowds, we cry praises to the Saviour of the world.
But that joy was built on false expectations of what Jesus really taught about justice and violence. So the crowd turned on him, demanding he be put to death. “Good” Friday marks Christians’ profound grief at the opportunity we lost in to live in right relationship with God.
The second Sunday of joy is Easter. Easter joy is real, deeply rooted, death-conquering. It can only come after living through the grief. We celebrate with the full-blossoming earth — without kidding ourselves, without denying how much tragedy fills the planet, how much self-centred responsibility we bear.
So here is an Easter recipe for a spring-fresh start.
Take gentle stock of where you are, where you want to be. Ask yourself how that might mesh with whatever deep purpose you were born to achieve (Part One).
Then (Part Two), re-align yourself with that same deep purpose. Fall back into relationship with the Holy Mystery that created you, however you name it. Let yourself be renewed, refreshed and truly empowered.
If you follow the steps, sitting with grief or regret as it cracks your heart open, you can truly experience a loving welcome back.
Once you embrace the promise of returning life, Easter-spring-triumph over death, you cannot be defeated by doubt and fear.
Then — empowered by Spirit, arm-in-arm with each other, fully aware of how much harm needs mending, brimming with collective joy — we can all live out the Easter promise.
That’s real spring cleaning.
Rev. Frances Marr Darling is currently on leave as Minister at Chemainus United Church.