Lent

And so we have begun our season of Lent. We didn’t do anything specific to begin - though some attended the Ash Wednesday observances at the church. Lent happens to us whether or not we are ready or prepared or have a plan. It just is. The name of the season comes from the same rood as the word “lengthen,” and it is a reference to the fact that the days are getting longer in the northern hemisphere at this time of year. Here in Rapid City today is 2 minutes and 50 seconds longer than yesterday and by the end of February, we’ll be adding three minutes to each day. If you happen to be curious about such things, because of the acceptance of time zones, our clocks don’t line up with the highest point of the sun each day. We’re off by about six minutes here, with actual solar noon occurring after the clocks say it is noon. It is close enough that most of us don’t notice the difference, but if you are observant, the lengthening of the days is noticeable, especially if you observe for a couple of weeks.

So the days are getting longer and the nights are getting shorter. In these days of all kinds of artificial lighting, our sleep cycles don’t exactly line up with the hours of darkness. Few of us have any interest in heading to bed at 5:22 in the afternoon, and I prefer not to linger in bed tunic 6:51 - the time of sunrise today. So the change in the length of the day doesn’t really mean that we have more or less time, just that we feel differently about the time that we do have. There is some evidence that people in other periods of time did adjust their sleep and spend more time in bed during the winter and less during the summer. I don’t think there is much of that left in the world today.

Still, it might be interesting to take just one bit of that time as a discipline. What if each of us claimed the extra 2 or 3 minutes that we get each day and set it aside for prayer or meditation. I guess you won’t get very deep into meditation on 3 minutes a day, but 3 minutes a day of prayer will make anyone more aware of the needs of others and more tuned into the ways that God is working in the world. If every member of an entire church were to submit to the discipline of three extra minutes of prayer each day for the 46 days of Lent.

The tradition of 46 days of Lent is itself interesting. It comes from the ancient tradition of using the number 40 to describe a long time. In the Hebrew Bible, the part we call the Old Testament, forty is frequently used for time periods. Rain fell for “forty days and forty nights” during the flood. Moses sent spies to explore the land of Canaan for “forty days.” In the New Testament, Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days. 40 is often used for a period of testing or trail in the Bible. Lent, however, does not count the Sundays as days of fasting and therefore the six Sundays in Lent lengthen the overall time to 46 days. This may have been a simple nod to the practical in terms of organizing practices in the early church. People were unable to bear the discipline of extreme austerity for 40 days in a row and giving a feast day in each week offered a break from the self-denial.

I am aware that a bit of self denial can be a good practice, especially in our time when self indulgence is so rampant. Giving up a little of this or that can have positive affects on our outlook and help us to connect with others. The problem with focusing our attention solely on giving up something for Lent, however, is that we are still focusing our attention on ourselves. Often people choose to adopt a discipline that is probably good for their health, by giving up fatty foods, or chocolate or some other indulgence.

I often encourage people to think in terms of what they might take on during Lent other than what they might give up. Of course we all have a limited amount of time and a limited amount f resources, so taking on something can also mean giving up something else.

I am struck by how little changes can add up to significant events in people’s lives. The lengthening of Lent is a god example. The extra 2 minutes and 50 seconds of daylight today doesn’t seem like much, but by Easter Sunday, we will have added 2 hours and 15 minutes to the length of the day. We’ll notice the change in the weather and will feel the touch of spring as the season passes. In a similar way making a small change can add up to big changes. 25 cents a day for the season of lent is $10 if you give yourself Sundays off. Small things can add up. A little bit of extra prayer for others in the life of each member of a congregation can lead to a powerful transformation of a community.

So our season begins. There are great possibilities for us if we seize the opportunity offered us by this particular season in our lives. Lent is always a journey. It begins with the simple reminder of our own mortality and ends with the dramatic revelation that death is not the end. It offers an opportunity to practice the emotions and realities of grief and loss within the context of a loving and supporting community. It has its ups and downs, twists and turns. When we get to the end of the journey, none of us will be the same as we were when we began.

May this season of lengthening be rich in meaning for you.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!