Who Knew Batman Was A Lent Nazi?

batman

The other day I saw a little Batman and Robin cartoon that really made me smile. I love Batman anyway, so the fact that it was church related humor made it even more attractive. In the cartoon Robin is saying the first part of that Lenten no-no word. He gets about half of it out, “allelu….”, at which point Batman slaps him hard across the face. Beside the sound affect word {smack} is Batman’s angry response in all capital letters, “LENT!”

Who knew Batman was a liturgical church fan?

The thing I am asked most frequently about Lent is, “why can’t we say that word till Easter?” More so even than wondering about giving up chocolate or some other sacrifice, this is the big question about which most people are very curious.

Unlike Batman, who is apparently not only a fan of church custom but appears to be almost a liturgical Nazi, (just kidding, by the way, because I love Batman and don’t really think he’s a Nazi) I’m not sure that saying that word is a smack-worthy offense. It is, like so many church traditions, a practice we are not forced to obey but one we may choose to observe. And, like many church traditions, it is a very good one to observe because it has a good purpose in our faith life.

Before we can know why we choose not to say it during the forty day journey to the Festival of the Resurrection, we ought to know what the word actually means. It is found in scripture in the Old Testament and it comes from the words Hallal, which is a word that you would use if you are telling people to praise someone joyously with great celebration, and Yah, which is a short version of the name of God. It means Praise God; praise God with great and abundant joy! It is also found in the New Testament and there it is written as a Greek version of the same word because the writers simply took the same word and wrote it out as it sounds, just like we did in English. In other words, from ancient times till now, this is a phrase that people of God have used to say Praise God! We typically use it in celebration of some sort, for example when we are joyously celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, God’s defeat of death forever, and we wish to use the very best kind of celebration word.

So, that’s what it means. Every Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection but we don’t want to use it every Sunday of the year because we leave out these weeks of Lent. Why? Why don’t we want to say that word over and over again every day of the year?

Well, in some ways it is like singing Christmas songs too early. We don’t sing Silent Night and Joy to the World right after Thanksgiving because that hymn is to celebrate Jesus’ birth and we don’t get to that until December 25. We certainly could sing it but it’s a bit like singing happy birthday in June to someone who has a birthday in August. Why would you wish to?

Saying that particular word is a sort of like that. We do celebrate the truth that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and is at large in the world every single Sunday but Lent is usually a time set aside that is a little bit more reserved, a little bit quieter, and more thoughtful. Like Advent, when we want to sing Joy to the World but must hold back a while, we are waiting for something during Lent. Not for the birth of the baby Jesus but the resurrection of the grown man Jesus. 

Ultimately, the choice to refrain from saying this word during this brief period of time is just that—a choice. You don’t have to obey this tradition but it can be a reminder that God also choses. God did not have to choose to send his Son for us. Jesus did not have to choose complete obedience to the Father. God did not have to choose to give his life so that we may live. And yet God did choose all those things and more. God chooses us; chooses to love us over and over and over again simply out of his own love for us. Perhaps choosing to set aside this one word for 40 days each year is a reminder that God chose to give up his life for us, chose to take our sins and the brokenness of the world upon his own shoulders as he climbed the hill of the skull, chose to say ‘Father, forgive them’ and chooses over and over to forgive us, love us and hold us close.

It is sometimes said that we bury this word during Lent. This is a good way to think about it because it is a little bit like a seed or flower bulb. A hole is dug in the dirt and we plop them in, then walk away and forget them. Way down into the earth they go, stretching their roots out into the darkness far from our sight or knowledge. Down deep and forgotten. Then they spring out of the ground with new bright life reaching towards the sun with green leaves and stems and beautiful flowers.

What if we buried this word like that? What if we more than just buried it but if we, instead, planted it deep in our hearts. Dig a hole in our soul, so to speak, or perhaps use one of those holes that life already seems to punch in our hearts with all the ways we are hurt or hurt one another or lose things or people we love.  Find one or two of those places and drop in some of these praise God bulbs. What might happen? What might bloom in each of us when that word… when the Word… grows and breaks through the hard ground of our hearts?

Probably something beautiful.

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