Sunday, 10 March 2019

The first Sunday of Lent - going into the wilderness

I like the season of Lent - no I love Lent, which you may find strange - surely you may be thinking Lent is not a season to be loved, after all it is about repentance, fasting, self denial, sackcloth and ashes - what is there to be loved about that? 

When I first read these passages about the temptation of Jesus, events that take place immediately after Jesus’ baptism - we heard that “Jesus full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the spirit in the wilderness.” I wondered whether I quite liked the Holy Spirit? Remember that I was young - but you perhaps see what I mean: The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into an inhospitable place where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.” Which does not seem very friendly.

Well my reaction back then had to be a misreading, there must be something else for as we know the love between the Holy Spirit and Jesus is perfect. Now the wilderness of Judea has a special resonance for the Jews. it was a place of religious hope as well as refuge, it was the place from which John the Baptist emerged as the herald, the messenger foretelling the coming of Christ, and it was the symbol of the wandering Israelites where they were lost for forty years before God brought them to the promised land. People had been retiring into this wilderness for years to be ascetic to pray to fast to perhaps join one of the religious groups like the Essenes and to seek wisdom and holiness. What then more natural for Jesus than to go there (led by the Holy Spirit manifestly present at his baptism) to prepare for his ministry?

What then more symbolic and easily understood by the population that Jesus should come out of the wilderness to begin his preaching, teaching and healing? The next verse, following our reading makes this point:

“Then Jesus filled with the power of the Spirit returned to Galilee, and a report spread about him through all the surrounding country.”  (Luke 4:14)

The season of Lent, as I said on Ash Wednesday has been observed by Christians since the early days and by our carefully keeping it we take to heart the call to examine ourselves, the call to pray, to read and to meditate on God’s word.  Together with fasting and self denial we seek to increase our own understanding, devotion and commitment.

Our whole world as you know is focussed on DOING; especially for the young who are ever exhorted to work long hours, to holiday hard, to go to the gym, to measure their daily steps and to fill every moment. But for all of us and especially I think for a priest there is a tension between DOING and BEING. Oh, there is plenty to do, and filling one’s days is not difficult  but as you know that is not enough - we at least must also be priestly.

Which is why I love Lent - for forty days and nights the priority is to reflect, to pray to read to create if you like a mental and physical retreat - to go into the wilderness.

Jesus began his earthly ministry in this way and I count it an inestimable privilege that I am beginning my time here among you at this season. No, don’t worry I am not going to lock myself in the rectory for a month and disappear from view but I will try to carry before me the Lenten approach, so to encourage myself to have deep prayerful pensive conversations with God that will hopefully, helpfully inform my conversations with all of you.


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