The Lenten season always feels like a paradox to me. It is traditionally a time of reflection, of penitence, of mourning for the brokeness of self and the brokenness of the world.
Lent happens, however, at a happy time of year, just as lively spring emerges from the bleakness of winter. That situation is more evident than usual this year, since Ash Wednesday came about as late on the calendar as it can come.
When forsythia erupts in yellow glory and the Bradford pears explode like white clouds, when daffodils dance in the morning breeze and cherry trees blush with pink, it’s as if the earth is conspiring against Lenten sorrow. Can one really mourn against the fragrant fecundity of spring?
Of course he can — or she can. Sometimes, in fact, when a person is already feeling depressed or alone, spring’s riot of color can leave them feeling left out. I’ll never forget the spring of 1994, a few months after my daughter Bethany was killed. I took a hike through a nature preserve one day, and found myself feeling incredibly resentful because the world was clearly moving on into spring, while my heart was stuck in winter.
Or, for that matter, if we reflect long enough, the beauty of spring is such a blaring reminder of God’s blessing that we might find ourselves feeling penitent that we fall so far short of living as Christ calls us to do.
So, perhaps the paradox is not so jarring after all: instead of having winter’s gloom rub off on us, the dark side of our own lives stands in sharp contrast to the beauty of God’s blessing.
But, as spring surely defeats winter each year, we know the promise of Easter is coming, the hope of redemption and the assurance of a resurrection in which we, too, will bloom our way into a new life.