Lent is many things including a journey in which we remember Jesus the fully human and holy one who lived and died and rose again as one of us and for us as the expression of his great and passionate love for us. And so for us Lent in a journey of remembering all that informed who and what has made us as people of faith collectively and individually. We remember our way back through the layers of the stories and rituals of our faith and we remember our way forward or home to what is calling us into new life.
Many of us began our Lent journey on Ash Wednesday when we were told to “Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return” as we were marked with a cross in ash. We remembered that at our creation we were made of the same dust as stars and all other creatures and that until God breathed into us life itself we were no more than earth.
And now on the first Sunday of Lent we continue the journey by remembering that great story of our Hebrew forebears in faith, the exodus from Egypt and the journey to the land of milk and honey, the journey from slavery to liberty. It is the foundational story in the Hebrew tradition and it was at the Jewish festival of the Passover, the remembering of that journey, that Jesus shared his last meal on earth with his disciples, his companions on the way. It was the formative story of his life, as it was for all his family and disciples.
According to the witness of Luke’s gospel when Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness he was tempted in ways that reflect the wilderness years of his forebears on that great 40 year journey through the wilderness. They were hungry and were fed with manna in the wilderness. Jesus was hungry and was tempted to turn stones into bread but remembers that “one does not live by bread alone”. The Israelites worshipped Baal and built a golden calf but Jesus remembers that one is to “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”. Israel’s hopes were connected to the temple that is at the centre of the promised land but Jesus remembers “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The wilderness experience for Jesus is presented as pivotal in his formation of identity and preparation for ministry. In the wilderness he is tried and tested as to who and what he shall be. And Jesus relies on his faith’s foundational story to help him in his struggle. He becomes the story. And we too are invited into this remembering who we are and how we are to be. The story of Jesus in the wilderness and long before him the people of Israel in the wilderness is the story of who we are and of how we came to become who we are as a people of faith.
We all have private memories, happy and sad, detailed and vague haunting details. They shape us and encourage us and limit us. The personal memories within us and our families that form us inform us. In my family of creation, for those brief years that my children were young, we would remember the story of their birth every birthday. We would all go down to the local beach cafe and have a cooked breakfast and then I would drag out the baby book of whoever was concerned and the tell the story of their birth – what time of day, who came to visit in the hospital, what their little siblings said to them, etc - remembering the story of their becoming who they are.
And even death does not stop us. How many widows and widowers still talk to their partners long after they have gone. I know I still talk to my mother and now an increasing number of friends. It is not just sentiment but relating to and with the other through remembrance.
We also have corporate or cultural stories such as the story of military heroes or the first settlers or sporting heroes or self made millionaires or great social reformers. Stories that reveal our values, our foibles, our fears, and our wisdom.
And as a people of faith we also are shaped by our stories – by the stories we hear Sunday by Sunday. We are shaped by the stories of Jesus and the early disciples, and by the stories that shaped Jesus and those disciples, the stories of the ancient ones and their journey to liberation through wilderness testing and struggle. These ancient stories are more than just stories of entertainment or historical information. They are stories that make the past somehow present now to us; that remind us the God who performed mighty deeds in the past is present now. We remember what God has done for us and in so doing we know again what God is doing for us and can do for us. This remembrance business is a powerful thing.
But remembrance is not a one way street, not merely our feeble attempt to be in contact with God. For we are told that God remembers us. As the prophet Isaiah said “even if a mother could forget her children, and of course she could not, God could not forget his people for they are carved in the palm of his hand”. That is God remembers us, carries us, in a way that is ever present, and not simply a story from a long ago time when the world was inhabited by giants.
The great stories are still at work in us. It is partly why Lent is not just a season for thinking about what Jesus did for us but remembering his life as the culmination, of God’s saving activity over all time. And recognising that the story of the exodus, the journey to liberation, is our journey. Not only is the story of back then but the story of our lives, the story of our becoming liberated by the love of God and the life of Jesus.
It is not that we are pretending to be back then but that remembering what happened becomes present to us now. It is what happens every Eucharist. We are not pretending to be there at the inaugural last supper but through remembrance “Do this in remembrance of me” Jesus is present to us now.
And what we listen to, what we attend to, will shape us and support us or distract us from our journey toward the heart of God from whence we came. So listen, look and taste that the Lord is here in word and sacrament and spirit. Take heart, take sustenance for the journey.
Even so, come Lord Jesus, come to us in word and sacrament and remind us who we are.