The Words of Lent
Every year before Lent, the Royal Lane children help us say goodbye to the word “Alleluia.” They march the letters of the word down the center aisle on the first Sunday morning in Lent and put them in a box for safe keeping. The letters are then taken out and Alleluia returns on Easter morning. By saying goodbye to Alleluia, we recognize that our joyful proclamations are put away for the contemplative season of Lent. As one writer says, “Alleluias are joyful proclamations, which we put away during the more contemplative season of Lent… putting away a favorite toy for a while – to appreciate it better later.”
This should uncover for us the power of words. Words matter. Words prepare us, enliven us, and skim the surface of the mystery of God. And so, I think about the word “Lent.” Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencton, meaning “spring” or “lengthening” during this time of year when the days are growling longer. Lent also comes from the Latin lentare, which means to “bend.” Understanding the power of the word “Lent” reveals that this season is a time of personal and communal transformation, a time of bending, lengthening, and changing. Lent is the season in which we look deeply at the life of Jesus and his journey to the cross.
But when we say goodbye to the word Alleluia, we say hello to the words of Lent. This Lenten season, in sermon and in song, we are examining the seven last statements of Jesus from the cross. These words are heavy, vibrantly relational, and very mysterious. Jesus’ first word is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In this first statement from the cross we get the relieving assurance of God’s FORGIVENESS. Even if forgiveness is difficult for us, God reminds us that we are loved. Jesus’ second word from the cross is one of SALVATION. Jesus says to the thief being crucified next to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus’ third word from the cross reveals the value of RELATIONSHIP. Even as Jesus died with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he took care of his mother, Mary. The fourth word of Jesus, “I thirst,” reminds us that even Jesus was in DISTRESS. We see that Jesus was human and struggled with the same physical needs that we do.
Jesus’ fifth word is probably the most gut-wrenching word of Lent – ABANDONMENT. Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We all go through difficult times when we question the presence of God in our lives. Jesus did too. Then his sixth word from the cross is one of protection and trust when he says, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” In those times when we feel most abandoned, we eventually find REUNION with God. And then the final word of Jesus from the cross is one of TRIUMPH. Jesus finally said, “It is finished!” This statement was much more than a dying man’s last words. It announced to God that Jesus had accomplished all that needed to be done. Yet, this Lent, we are to continue Christ’s work in the world. These last words from the cross remind us that Lent feels heavy and long, but that the last word at Easter will be one of RESURRECTION and we will all be changed for the better.