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Lent One - And into the wilderness we go

The journey of Lent leads us into the wilderness. But it does not start there! According to the gospel of Mark, Lent begins with Jesus being declared Beloved and it is from this place of ultimate certainty and connection to God that Jesus is then driven into the wilderness to experience tempting and testing. Jesus was declared Beloved before he passed the test and this makes a huge difference to how we understand not only Lent but life! Belovedness is not a reward for succeeding at life but the foundation from which we dare to grow and develop, from which we can trust to let go, and from which we are able to die into life. (Lent One. Mark 1:9-15.)

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So what do our readings this week tell us about the journey of Lent? The Old Testament readings of the weeks of Lent all take us back to God’s earlier covenants with our forebears in faith. This week Noah, next week Abraham and so on. God has always, we are being reminded, been reaching out to humanity and calling us back into relationship, offering new beginnings and reconciliation. In this earliest promise God includes all of Noah’s family and all flesh, all creatures, indeed the earth itself. It is a promise to the whole of creation of inclusion and healing and faithfulness. And so while we might understand our relationship with God as particularly shaped and informed by the life and death of Jesus Christ and the relationship we have entered into with God in Christ, we do so in the company of all humanity and all creation. God’s love is universal and wider and deeper than our particular theology.

 

We begin Lent being reminded that we are privileged – in the paradoxical sacrificial way of the gospel – to be in relationship with this Creator of the whole world. And as St Paul saw it, the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood in some way prefigured the life and ministry, the new covenant that Jesus made in his own flesh. The covenant with the survivors of the watery destruction of the flood prefigures the covenant that we enter through baptism with God in Christ’s body the church.

 

In a very real sense then we are beginning the journey of Lent by remembering our baptismal call, and as one with Christ we begin in him, with him, through him, his journey to the cross and to new life. We are not passive observers of someone else’s story – this is our story unfolding. A story which is not spoiled or less powerful just because we think we know what comes next.

 

So let us slow down and reflect on the beginning of the journey: Jesus is baptised with water and Spirit, is driven into the wilderness, and begins his ministry. What does it mean to be honoured as God’s beloved in one moment and then in the next to be driven by that same spirit into the wilderness for forty days of struggle? I want to suggest that it was spiritually necessary for Jesus and is our experience as well.

 

Think about the baptismal scene – Jesus is acknowledged as the Son of God, the Beloved, the one who pleases. But something needed to happen for Jesus in the wilderness that was crucial for his development as both the Son of Man, or fully human one, and the Son of God, or fully divine one. Something happened in the wilderness that earthed him so that great power and love could be expressed with humility and compassion. Something happened so that he was utterly clear about his relationship with his Father and who he was called to be and this sustained him in the journey to come. The wilderness, I suggest, was not so much a test to be passed or failed – for he had already been declared the Son, the Beloved – as it was a process of integration, of being made whole and holy, of being tempered like precious metal.

 

Given that we have been made one with Christ in baptism what can we expect this process to be like for us? Well I would suggest that part of what happened was Jesus, filled with the knowledge that he was loved and empowered, took a number of opposites, dualities into the wilderness. There he struggled with these paradoxes and contradictions. And he came out the other side integrated and clear about the true nature of himself and the world.

 

What were some of these opposites? Well we have a human being driven by the Spirit. We have a human and the beasts of the wilderness. We have angels and demons companioning him.


So what are the opposites that we take into the wilderness this Lent? What dualities need to be engaged with as paradox that may lead to integration and wholeness? Maybe like me you experience both desire and reluctance to do God’s work. Or maybe you are both convicted of the truth and life giving nature of the gospel and yet ashamed to share it with others. Trust that if you choose life, life shall choose you. Maybe you enter the wilderness of Lent with the genuine desire to be a better, more loving, generous person. And yet you know that forty days will strip away all mere appearances, including the appearance of goodness. Trust that your true God given self will emerge from that struggle.

 

Maybe you enter the wilderness of Lent with the deep desire to know God better, to understand more fully the way of the Cross, and the things that make for life. And yet you fear that forty days may tear away at your knowledge, your beliefs, your busyness of mind and body – of all that supports who and how you are. Trust that angels will provide you with what you need without you even needing to know what to ask for.

 

Maybe you enter the wilderness of Lent with a genuine willingness to simple be in the wilderness and trust your instincts. And yet you know that forty days and nights will disorientate you and confound your instincts. Trust that the Creator will call you back to your true direction.

 

Each one of us and all of us bring into the wilderness that which is powerful and that which is broken and vulnerable, that which is possible and that which is delusional. It is a place of fragmentation and reconstelation. Mostly it is place of reorientation, a turning toward Jerusalem, the cross, the tomb - and a turning toward new life emerging from the empty tomb on Easter morn. So pray, read Scripture, reflect, spend time with your self – thinking, feeling, remembering all the things that make you - you, for better and for worse. Fast, or live simply, so that you are not distracted. Be generous to others, especially those in need whether or not they are particularly deserving. Commune with your own heart upon your bed, as the psalmist said. Be open to the Spirit, do not fear the demons of realisation, remorse or guilt, they are but guides toward the forgiveness of God. Travel through Lent quietly, deeply, attentively. Choose life, and life shall choose you.

Even so, come Lord Jesus, come lead us into the wilderness to find ourselves in you.

 

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