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Like Spring Without Winter

Like many of you, I am enjoying this early spring we’ve been having in Middle Tennessee. The tulips, the pear trees, the dogwoods and the budding maples are so gorgeous and uplifting, and the sunshine just makes me happy.

I love spring—the colors, the smells, the sounds. And I’m glad that it has arrived. But…I have to confess something. Part of me is disappointed that we didn’t get a real winter. Just one big snow would have been nice. Or an extra snow day or two, a chance to bundle up in the house against the harsh weather. Somehow, it just didn’t feel right to sail right into spring without facing the freeze of winter.

For me, the sights, smells and sounds of spring are more vivid when they come at the end of a harsh winter. We appreciate the new life more when we’ve endured the dead of winter. Having stared at the bare tree branches, having been cooped up inside, having heard the silences of snow, the beauty and buzz of spring feels more like a gift.

What can be said of the seasons of the year can also be said of the seasons in the church. In the Christian year, we go through the season of Lent and Holy Week as we prepare for Easter. In order to embrace fully the joy and hope of Easter, we need to have been on the journey of Lent. Lent is a season of drawing inward, of wilderness and self-denial. Holy Week takes us through the deep sadness of Jesus’ abandonment, arrest, torture and crucifixion until all goes black on Good Friday. Without walking slowly through these days of preparation and these days of darkness, the proclamation of Easter is less vivid and, I believe, less powerful.

Of course, our culture doesn’t like wilderness, self-denial and suffering. We want to arrive at Easter without going through the painful journey of Lent and Holy Week. We don’t like looking inward. We are often afraid to walk around in the wilderness of our own souls. And we would rather avoid suffering if at all possible. Think about how much of our society is built on the avoidance of pain and suffering. How can we in the church offer a different witness?

For the past several weeks, I’ve been teaching a Sunday School class on the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. This past Sunday we focused on Mark 15:15b-23, which recounts the flogging and mocking of Jesus by the Roman soldiers. We learned what the Roman punishment of flogging was like in the first century. We heard that the crossbeam that Jesus had to carry weighed 75-100 pounds. We flinched. We recoiled. We wanted to talk about something else. But we knew that somehow, walking with Jesus through these terrible events would help us understand more fully how much it cost God to redeem us and would inspire us to live lives worthy of that sacrifice.

Next week is Holy Week. As your pastor, I want to urge you to experience the passion and suffering of Christ in whatever way you can. Come to worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday (services at 7:00 each night). If you are traveling next week, find a Good Friday service to attend. Or, make some time to read slowly through the passion story in Mark 14-15. Find a painting to sit in front of. Draw closer to Christ during his time of trial and, I promise you, Easter morning will come as a tremendous surprise and a glorious gift!