We are gathering together for another Journey. This time we are readying ourselves for the season of Lent. Perhaps we will enjoy a celebratory Fat/Shrove/Pancake Tuesday before we begin.
Lent. The season of sacrifice and loss and grief. The season of testing. This time is represented by the time Jesus spends forty days in the desert grappling with the one in the Wilderness.
Perhaps it represents a time when we, too, grapple with our own demons. Those things that distract us from our greater purpose…whatever that is. Perhaps that is what Jesus is doing in the desert. Growing up. Strengthening himself. Learning. Growing. Practicing. The last time we saw Jesus, he was twelve. That’s a bit of time between then and when we see him again in his early thirties.
Perhaps Jesus had his own distractions to sort through and some practicing to do so that he could become a calm and effective teacher of Love and Peace. Perhaps he grappled with versions of chocolate, alcohol, over-working, ego, Facebook, easy gossip, easy “too busy”, the bings and tings of external triggers distracting us from our greater purpose. Those things that keep us from being our best selves and doing what’s most important to us, spending time with the people who are most important to us.
Maybe that’s what the sacrifice of Lent is for us. Finding focus. Finding out what’s most important. What’s our greater purpose. What gifts do we have to offer. And then eliminating or grappling with the demons of our own distractions and desires.
What is the one whom Jesus meets in the wilderness? It is the one who tries to keep Jesus from God. But what is it? Who is it? How does Jesus overcome? Another gift of the unknown. Part of the Mystery. What we do know is that Jesus fortifies himself with angels (Good Company) and keeps his eyes lifted to God. The light at the end of the tunnel. He grapples with the unknown and the testing, but he keeps…Faith through it all.
If these stories are meant to challenge us and get us thinking, we might wonder if Jesus is the one in the wilderness for the other. The one coming up against someone so certain and so sure of God that it feels it must challenge that faith, that hope, that certainty. The one who finds that certainty scary. What if there is a God? What if this is the Son? What does that mean for one who is lost? How does that change everything known and done and been.
It’s important to think of the “bad guys” in the stories. They are God’s creation as well. They are part of the original Goodness. It’s easy to look at someone or some thing and call it “bad” or “evil” and dismiss it as hopeless. That “other” that we don’t have to and should not engage with (even within ourselves). It gives us permission to give up on others who don’t align with us and our beliefs. Don’t we have enough division and alienation?
We believe in a faith and God of Hope. There is always hope for “lost souls”. So, who is the one that Jesus meets in the wilderness? What is the wilderness? We all have our own wildernesses and our own ones that try to keep our faces from lifting to God.
After all that. I don’t want our Lenten season to be focused on sacrifice, loss, hopelessness, grief, and battling. I think we’ve had enough of all of that.
I’d like to focus on the lesson to be learned FROM our year of unexpected and forced sacrifice, loss, fear, hopelessness, grief, and struggles. I don’t think this is necessarily the year for giving up anything more…
But, but, but fasting and sacrificing for Lent … “it’s what we do” and “it’s what God asks of us” and “we have to”.
Lent represents forty days of Jesus in the desert grappling. Forty days. Ash Wednesday to Easter. I’m going to give you a moment to do the math. I’ll give you a hint, it’s six weeks plus this Wednesday to Sunday. Forty six days.
Why is this?
Because we are not meant to be in a sacrificial, fasting state for that length of time. Certainly not for an entire year.
Because every single Sunday, even in Lent, is an echo of the Resurrection. Every Sunday is a day of Hope and Love. Every single Sunday is a day of celebration.
We very easily get stuck in a mentality of more is better. This can fuel our addictions and disorders. If one is good, then seven is even better. If one day of fasting for God is good, then if I fast for seven, God will love me more…
More is not better. Let me tell you a story of Saint Francis: “the night when a brother called out in his sleep, “Brothers! I die of hunger!” Swift was Francis’s response–but exquisitely tactful. All the Brother were awakened; all were called to a low table, and all were commanded to break bread together, while Francis spoke tenderly of the danger of excessive mortifications. The friar who had cried out was never named.” (Love Never Faileth: E. Easwaran page 18)
What are we to do?
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of the Lenten season. Ash Wednesday might have more poignancy this year. Perhaps you might bury your hands in dirt or touch ash and contemplate what it means. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Not a moment for depression, but a contemplation of our deepest shared experience as human beings…the cycles of life. We come from dust and ash and to dust and ash we shall all return. What do we do in between?
Perhaps Ash Wednesday reminds us to live a good life. That our time is finite and to not get distracted from our true priorities of being our best self and doing our great work, our closest people, our community.
We aren’t good at contemplating the cycle of life. Death and dying. We aren’t good at contemplating our own mortality. Perhaps Ash Wednesday is a reminder that we are beginning a journey to resurrect our life. Perhaps this year more so than ever.
There IS a light at the end of the tunnel. Lent is also a time of lengthening. Spring. The deep days of winter shift to spring. There is an awakening. A resurrection. Life reborn.
We see the light in our own lives. There is a covid shot coming out. There will be warmer days for outdoor activities and visits and services. Sure, there will be trials to come, but resurrection is inevitable. Life renewed.
Maybe this Lent is an invitation to focus on the light. Yes, we are still in the tunnel, but there is light ahead. We can see it. (spoiler alert) We know Jesus will be rising from the tomb. It will be echoed in the weeks of Lent. In the sun. The greenery. The flowers. The melting snow. The melting sap. The budding trees.
This is not to focus on the Light to “get there”. But to know the light is there as we traverse the rest of the tunnel. In the tunnel, we have so much to learn. We can gloss over and run toward the light, but it is in the tunnel that the lessons have been given. It is in the wilderness that the wisdom is gained. What have we learned from our sacrifices, our loss, our grief, our world upside down?
It will be important that we do not run back to that “old norm” or get trapped ruminating on life as it was. Back “when life was better”. What have we learned? What is it that we missed the most? Who have we become through our trials of the tunnel? What can WE do to move forward living a life of Hope and Love?
What did we learn from our time in the wilderness? In the tunnel? What do we still have to learn? Perhaps that is the journey of Lent this year.
Shedding the guilt and shame and not good enoughs. Letting go of the chains of sorrow and grief. Letting go of our clinging to the world as it was. The world will always be shifting. What new world shall we resurrect? What new world will we be a part of? What new version of ourselves will unfold and blossom as we reach for the light of renewal and new beginnings?
What have we learned? What is of value? How do we walk our life’s path closest to God? Jesus showed us a path. We will walk this journey in the next weeks. A path through sacrifice and challenge and death. What is the rebirth for our life, our church, and our community?
It is coming. We see the dawn.