This year the whole of March falls within Lent. That makes it too late to talk about Ash Wednesday and how we should be keeping Lent, and too early to talk about Easter, the great day for which Lent is the time of preparation. So instead, let’s remind ourselves that the word ‘Lent’ is an old English word simply meaning ‘spring’. In other languages, the word for Lent refers to the forty days (such as the French Carême) or the season of fasting (such as the German Fastenzeit). Our language invites us to ponder the fact that Lent and Easter occur in the spring.
The connection to new life and rebirth is obvious. As the natural world comes back to life, as leaves and flowers appear, as animals come out of hibernation, as the days lengthen and we spend more time out of doors, so too Christians celebrate the new spiritual life that flows from the dying and rising of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In St John’s Gospel, Jesus compares his own death and resurrection to the planting of a seed: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. now, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself’ (John 12: 24, 32). He is the seed, buried in the earth, but raised up in glory, extending his risen life to all who follow him.
In the natural world, plants produce more seeds, which in turn produce more plants. So too the followers of Jesus are not only the ‘fruit’ of Jesus’s death and resurrection, we are that new generation of seeds which must be planted in order to bear more fruit. Each Christian life is a life of dying and rising. Each Christian life replicates the pattern of Christ’s dying and rising. ‘We die with him’, says St Paul, ‘in order that we may live with him’. How do we ‘die’? We die to self, we die to selfish and self-destructive instincts, we die to all that separates us from Christ. And how do we ‘live’? We gratefully remember the promise of Jesus that he has come that we may have life, and may have it in all its fullness. We allow the risen life of Christ to live in us.
The Very Revd Peter Atkinson
Dean of Worcester