LENT, is a time to look clearly at ourselves and our world to see where we are growing and where we are not living as fully as God intends. This reflection invites us to consciously make some changes in our lives–or some new beginnings. Traditionally people in the Northern Hemisphere have believed that the word “Lent” comes from the same root as “length” and that it refers to the lengthening of days at this time of year.
Recently, some people have wondered whether it comes from the Latin word lentare, which means, “to bend.” During the winter we see the branches on our forsythia bushes or rhododendron bend under the weight of the snow. If they resisted the added pressure, they would break. So instead, they yield to the gentle burden and in so doing, become more beautiful.
We also yield to oncoming traffic when we merge onto Rt. 128. Not only is it a courtesy, but it’s good for your health! We would inevitably be sideswiped or rear-ended by an eighteen-wheeler tooling down the highway. We yield to the ongoing movement of traffic and thus blend in with the forward movement. With that connection, Lent can be seen as a time of transformation or bending, of turning toward a new way of acting or being. It is a time of yielding to the flow of God’s Spirit.
The night before his execution, Jesus likened himself to another kind of tree, a grapevine. “I am the true vine,” Jesus said. “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15: 1, 5). Jesus likened himself to the main trunk of a grapevine that provided the nourishment to the attached branches. Their job was to bear grapes, but if they didn’t “abide” in the trunk, they would wither and die or their fruit would be deficient.
Abide is a word that implies resting, yielding. Unless the secondary branches yielded, gave way to the main branch, they would choke. If they remained in the trunk they would flourish.
After spending a day ministering to the rag tag of the world Jesus gave this comforting invitation: “Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30).
Another call to rest, to yield, to bend, to abide in the will of Christ. He assumes we are all carrying burdens. Is it the grind of a job you really hate? Do you have the burden of caring for an elderly parent while your brothers and sisters live miles away? Does your teenage daughter act as if you are a Neanderthal? Is the shame that I’m somehow no good become unbearable at times? Do you still carry regrets about something done years ago? Is there an addiction in your life that you think is unspeakable? Jesus knows this. He’s been part of life. He’s carried some of the same loads.
Instead, he invites you to put down your pack, and place his yoke on your shoulder. You’re going to have to wear a yoke one way or the other, so it might as well be his. His yoke is easy compared to yours. He won’t flog you for what you’ve done or haven’t done. He won’t remind you how weak you are because you can’t carry the load. His burden is light. It’s the burden of love.
When life brings inordinate pressures, we must learn to bend like the bushes under the snow. There is buoyancy and resilience in those young branches as they submit to that extra weight. They don’t fight it. In so doing they become stronger, more able to resist the load next winter.
There is also the pressure of the Spirit asking you to bend, to yield to the will of God more fully in your life. Might it be to be more prayerful and deliberate about life? Is there an issue of justice I need to attend to? Could it be I need to give up that negative spirit or early morning grousing to God? Am I grieving that my church isn’t as I remember it? Do I need to make room for people who have different tastes, theology or politics? Do I spend more time serving my own needs than those hurting in this world? Does my impatience get me into more trouble than I like to admit? Whatever it is… Yield. Rest. Bend.