Luke 4:1-13 (1st Sunday of Lent)
Grace and Peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
This morning we find ourselves in the early days of Lent. You may not feel different. You may not sense much of a difference as you look around. Though, as we look towards our paraments you can visibly witness the changes in colors as we mark time with the season.
Lent is a season in the church year in which many people either dread, or a season in which people look forward to on a yearly basis. Lent is a season of preparation as we walk towards Holy Week and the culmination of the three days leading to Easter. We begin on Ash Wednesday as we receive ashes reminding us of our own mortality and that only by the cross of Christ are we given eternal life.
The gospel of Luke brings us the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert which I believe we can all relate to, whether we want to admit it or not. Jesus, being tempted by bread, power, and safety could be those same things that we are tempted by. It could just as easily be translated over to youth, beauty, or wealth as well. As we prepare to walk in these forty days of Lent, Jesus makes his preparations in the desert for forty days, resisting the devil, and preparing for the ministry that lays ahead of him. This desert that Jesus finds himself in this, his training ground; one that continues to prepare him for the cross. Thomas Merton explains Lent in this manner:
“The purpose of Lent is not only (seeking repentance) , to satisfy the divine justice, but above all a preparation to rejoice in His love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of His mercy–a gift which we receive insofar as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy.
“Now one of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance to our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves. If we were terrified of God as an inexorable judge, we would not confidently await His mercy, or approach Him trustfully in prayer. Our peace and our joy in Lent are a guarantee of grace.”
We are fearful of leaving things behind. Those “things” can be relationships, possessions, habits, or even our own personal desires. As we look inward these next several weeks we also may come to realize that we may benefit by fasting from those things. Fasting is not an easy task. It can bring heartache and longing. It can bring a sense of emptiness. However, fasting can also bring us grace and a deeper relationship with God. We must be careful to make sure we are fasting for the right reasons because the worst thing we can do during Lent is to be tempted to earn God’s favor through self-denial. When we fast it disrupts our lives in a way which helps us to see more clearly.
I was really struck by temptation entering my cell for the first time when I went on retreat at The Abby of Gethsemani. No, there was not a plate of cookies or cake awaiting me in my room, though that would have been a temptation within itself. I was struck by the picture icon that hung over my bed. The icon itself, a scene from this very reading in Luke that we hear today. The icon is painted by Brother Lavrans Nielsen, a member of the community at Gethsemani. The devil in all black seems to be tempting Jesus by asking him to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. Jesus’ rebuke is short and simple, “One cannot live on bread alone.”
While my retreat was in January, there was still some time before the start of Lent. This made me think about those temptations that we attempt to resist as we prepare for our own journeys. Often times we are tempted to take a course that turns us away from God and thus distancing ourselves from the love that flows so freely. The reality is that God’s love never fades for us and when we return we are welcomed with arms wide open waiting to embrace us in a love that is overpowering.
While we are tempted to turn away from things that disrupt our lives, I invite you to welcome that disruption in. Welcome in those things that disrupt you from habits that have shaped us in ways that do not direct us toward God. Some of these we may be aware of while others may have just slipped into our daily lives without us truly noticing. Instead of turning from God , I encourage you to turn back.
Turn back to your baptism in which you were marked by the cross of Christ forever. Turn back to the baptismal waters that have washed over you and cleansed you of your sins. Turn back to your baptism where you were welcomed into the family of God with a deep loving embrace.
As we turn back to our baptisms, we must take the time to repent of those things that turn us away from God. We must say “no” to those things that distract and lead us away from experiencing the oneness of God. We must say “yes” to those things that feed us and bring us back to the baptismal waters.
During these forty days you will be tempted. You will be tempted by those things that always tempt you as well as some new things. Remember it is these forty days that we use as preparation. In this preparation we are continually receiving the gift of Grace from a God that walks with us. In these forty days may those things that you say “yes” to become habit and may your relationship with God be strengthened.