What are the signs of Lent? How do you know it’s Lent? Well, for one thing the days get longer. That’s the original meaning of the word in Old English- “lengthen.” Other indicators are the crosses placed in front of some churches, even draped with purple sashes. This is a sign of mourning and it alerts us to what is going on inside. It is a sign of passion which means deeply held feeling. But the sky is blue, gardens are growing, tourists are coming, and we are saying good bye to our winter.
But wait. If statistics can be trusted, there’s another cold spell left. Last year it ruined the peach crop and deeply affected the farmers who depended on their harvest. Suffering lasted a whole year, not just in Lent. Likewise, there were the tragedies of life which didn’t stop with Easter. And there were more this year too. The nonsensical and horrifying school shooting in Florida, personal loses and setbacks, hospitalizations and other events of the human condition remind us how delicate life really is, touched all of us. Of course, they’re not determined by Lent either, but it seems like it.
I used to begin Lent by praying that this year it would be a gentle time with no real hurt or loss. That prayer was never answered in the way I had hoped. The problems seemed more difficult, the setbacks more painful, the suffering more extended than at other times of the year. At least it seems that way.
Job’s complaint to God was very simple, “why me?” It’s the answer that’s complicated. Lent gives us an opportunity to stay quiet and probe for the answer. It’s not that we, above all, have offended God. And it’s not that our particular sins are the only ones that are heinous. We haven’t been singled out to suffer. Instead we have been singled out to live and to question, to journey through our years in faith and trust. God’s promise has been fulfilled, you just have to look for it: not in simplistic questions but in subtle and complicated answers, or you can just look away and admire the purple sashes flowing in the wind that adorn those crosses.