Although you might not know it in the U.S., with temperatures dipping into new lows for March, spring is around the corner. The crocuses are ready to announce themselves; the trees are whispering of new life. Once clandestine signs of spring are beginning to defy the last attempts of winter to hang on. The seasonal underdog is looking like it again will triumph. With such optimistic signs abounding, it might be strange to admit I sometimes find the season of spring a sobering time of year. The once stoic world around me is about to be in full bloom; all traces of winter are about to fade. Like the thawing of a frozen Narnia, the promise of rebirth announces itself. And there is something about it that jars me into reflection, maybe even dismay, every time.
Perhaps it is simply that spring is somewhat shocking after the dead contrast of winter. It comes suddenly and almost scandalously, proclaiming the definitive end of a season that once seemed to have the final word. No matter how accustomed to the dead of winter we may have become, the vigor of spring will not be stopped, and we just might not feel ready for the metaphor. When all has seemed dead or dormant for so long, the possibility of new life is almost too much of a promise to let in—like beams of sunlight unleashed on exhausted eyelids. When one’s spirit feels lifeless within them, the budding hope of a suddenly resurrected forest proclaims a story we may not be ready to hear.
This is one reason why I am grateful as a Christian for the season of Lent. The time leading up to the promise of Easter and the hope of resurrection is something like the early signs of spring. Indications of new life spring forth all around us, each with the shocking call that we must prepare ourselves for what is coming, reflect on the place of hope via the road of suffering, and face the forces and temptations that come at us along the way. It is not always easy to prepare one’s heart for the Cross of Christ, but the changing of seasons is upon us, and in it God beckons us forward. Henri Nouwen describes the tension eloquently: “The season of Lent, during which winter and spring struggle with each other for dominance, helps us in a special way to cry out for God’s mercy.”(1) For forty contemplative days, the season of Lent calls us to the wakeful awareness that we are human, we are dust, and we are falling short, but that there is a story reaching beyond our lifetimes, beyond our deaths, and our shortcomings, speaking new life where death stings and tears flow.
On the scene of a people who had lived with God’s silence for 400 years, Jesus suddenly and scandalously appeared like a crocus in still-thawing ground. There had not been a word from God since the prophet Malachi. The heavens were cold and silent, and hope remained dormant within time’s wintry grasp. But beneath the frozen ground of apathy, sin, and death, the Spirit of God was stirring. Spring was on its way. Lent reminds me to stay awake to the knowledge that this hope is still so: ”Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3). If God is the maker of all creation then every season has a purpose, and today we are waiting for spring.
Of course, the journey to the Cross may take the believer through bleak and despairing seasons that make sanctification seem an unending winter. But we are being drawn to the very Cross that held the harbinger of spring and the hope of resurrection. As surely as the sun rises he will appear—again.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Henri Nouwen, A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee (New York: Doubleday, 2002), 43.