The First Sunday in Lent
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:9-15
Lent is a season spent in the wilderness. In the Bible, “the wilderness” is thought to be a very remote and desolate place where people can get lost. It’s a place of danger. A place you shouldn’t travel alone. It’s a place where God’s people have always had to be lead OUT of, like the Israelites following the Exodus. And yet here we are—being lead INTO the wilderness of Lent just as Jesus was lead into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit after being baptized.
We might ask the question: why? Why spend a whole 40 days in a wilderness of fasting, in self denial, in prayer? Why follow the Spirit into a place of discomfort? Part of the answer comes from comparing the life of Jesus with the culture of today. We live in a time where the “wildernesses” are more dangerous than ever. Millions of advertising dollars are spent trying to get us to believe that we are not as happy, healthy, or whole as we could be if we but purchased whatever new product they are pushing. It is a wilderness of instant gratification that leads to debt and regret. Social media lets people portray a false front of perfectionism that has lead to a loneliness and depression. Every news cycle seems to bring a parade of racism, sexism, and injustice. A wilderness of human pain and despair. These wildernesses really are something to fear.
Yet, the wilderness we enter in Lent is a different kind of wilderness. It’s a time to simplify and be lead out of the wildernesses of society into a wilderness of self-discovery of our identity in God. It’s a time when we strip away all the excess stuff in our life that makes us nearly numb with comfort. It’s a time when we can admit that our lives are not perfect, but that we are not alone in Christ. It’s a time when we can look at the world in love so that we might be renewed in the hope that we can help God change it. These were the lessons Jesus learned, and it’s what we are invited to learn as well in Lent. We are lead by the Spirit into the wilderness. Let us journey with Jesus knowing that he will lead the way.
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Hillary D. Raining
Saint Christopher’s, Gladwyne