I grew up in circles that celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Reformation Day. I enjoyed and benefited from these recognitions but didn’t become familiar with the whole of the church calendar until the past few years. As someone who appreciates the practice of living in harmony with the seasons of creation, the concept of a spiritual calendar intrigued me. Since then, I have enjoyed gaining a better understanding of the church’s seasons.
I find it interesting that Lent – the season of reflection, restraint, and confession – falls during the time of year that is the coldest and most muted, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. January is the coldest month of the meteorological calendar. For many people, the challenge to endure the heart of winter begins around February and lasts until the cherry trees blossom. The glitter of the holidays has passed, clouds are more common than sunshine, and the landscape is increasingly bland. We begin to hear about seasonal affective disorder and count the days until the temperatures rise and the crocuses and daffodils bloom.
It is also interesting that Easter often falls around the time when the temperatures reach consistently comfortable levels and the earth bursts into bloom. The roots, bulbs, and seeds finally reveal the silent labor they have been doing all winter, deep within the restrained earth. Easter lilies are an especially fitting and triumphant example. The plant’s growing habit speaks of confident victory over the obstacles of the bulb’s tunic and the encompassing soil. As the blooms burst open in cornet-like fashion, they trumpet a sense of purity and joy.
It is fitting, then, that Lent corresponds with creation’s season of obscured progress. Those of us who observe this time do so in formal recognition of our own need for renewal and growth. We examine our hearts and repent in hope. The roots of our faith and commitment to Christ expand during our winters of the soul, whether we seek the season or if it comes upon us through undesirable circumstances. As the warmth of God’s hope spreads through our souls, we will bloom again, just like the plants – and perhaps in ways that will surprise us.
Lent is not the end of the story, however. The season concludes during Holy Week, and as we remember Christ’s sacrificial death and burial, we also remember that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Death must precede life, and without humiliation, there would have been no opportunity for resurrection.
But Christ’s three days in the grave were not wasted. Rather, in God’s sovereign and merciful plan, the seed of Jesus’ life carried agony and judgment that we shudder even to think upon. Just like Easter lilies, He remained in the earth for the appropriate duration (Matthew 12:40). And then, in due time and in the same pattern as His creation, Christ came forth from Joseph’s tomb in the greatest triumph, fully victorious over the very heart of evil and darkness. He showed Himself to be greater than all our soul winters and more glorious than the most beautiful springtime. It is indeed fitting that the church’s special recognition of this full display of undeserved hope and forgiveness follows each yearly season of humility.
Creation contains many teachers, as those of us with eyes of faith know. For believers, the dawn of spring can symbolize much more than the end of a physically cold and dark season. This year, the return of spring will remind me to celebrate Christ’s victory and our great hope with new meaning and adoration.
“For now, the winter is past; the rain has ended and gone away. The blossoms appear in the countryside. The time of singing has come, and the turtledove’s cooing is heard in our land” (Song of Songs 2:11-12).
Rosalie Chesley serves as the executive office coordinator at the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
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