We have now moved from the season of Epiphany into the season of Lent.
Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return. These are the words many of us hear at an Ash Wednesday service as we begin our Lenten journeys. In her essay, In the Barren Places, Debie Thomas notes that on Ash Wednesday, [Clergy] “impose ashes on our foreheads, say these challenging words, and invite us to face a bewildering paradox: we are beloved of God. And we will die. The first truth does not prevent the second. The second truth does not negate the first.”
She continues, “…This week, as [so many of our siblings] face the terrors and losses of war [and violence], we are once again asked to consider what it means that we — all of us, regardless of where we live or what political views we espouse — are small, mortal, vulnerable…”
In many ways, this is the same reality Jesus wrestles with in our Gospel reading this morning. At his baptism, Jesus hears the truth about his identity: he is God’s child, precious and beloved. But when the Spirit leads him into the wilderness, he must face a series of powerful assaults on that truth. He must learn how to discern God’s presence in a bleak and lonely wasteland. He must trust that he can be beloved and famished, valued and vulnerable at the same time. He must learn that God’s care resides within his flesh-and-blood humanity — within a fragile vessel that can crack and shatter.
We observe the Lenten season – and some choose to take on or give something up – because it gives us the chance to step outside of our day-to-day existence and look deeply at the lives we are leading and the choices we are making. It grants us the opportunity to reflect on where and how God fits into our lives and the ways that our faith could grow and be strengthened. Lent also makes space to think about the sacrifice that Jesus made in a grace-filled, life giving, kind of way. “This is the invitation of Lent. To learn that we can be loved and hungry at the same time. That we can hope and hurt at the same time. The deprivations of the wilderness teach us that when God nourishes us, the nourishment won’t be manipulative and disrespectful. It won’t necessitate a violation of God’s good creation. The food God gives won’t necessarily be the food we’d choose for ourselves, but it will feed us, nevertheless. And through us — if we will learn to share — it will feed the world.”
This morning we heard the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. “If Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness is a time of self-creation, a time for Jesus to decide who he is and how he will live out his calling, then here is what he chooses: emptiness over fullness. Obscurity over honour. Vulnerability over rescue. At every instance when Jesus can reach for the magical, the glorious, and the safe, he reaches instead for the mundane, the invisible, and the risky.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus doesn’t choose to enter the wilderness. The Spirit leads him there. But here’s the thing: Jesus chooses to stay until the work of the wilderness is over. We don’t always choose to enter wildernesses, either. We don’t volunteer for pain, loss, danger, or terror. But the wilderness happens. Whether it comes to us in the guise of a hospital waiting room, a thorny relationship, a troubled child, a sudden death, or a crippling panic attack, the wilderness appears, unbidden and unwelcome, at our doorsteps. It insists on itself.”
Lent is about opening ourselves to be in that wilderness. And this will look different for each one of us. For some of us, being in the wilderness might mean working through something that we are already going through, something that we are struggling with, whether it be a personal struggle, a physical or health struggle, a financial struggle or professional struggle. For some of us, being in the wilderness might mean challenging ourselves and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones. Reflecting on the past month, this also speaks to our commitment to engage in anti-racism work and the call to live in right relationship – knowing this means facing some uncomfortable truths and a willingness to do the work despite the discomfort. For some of us, being in the wilderness might mean trying something new or setting a different goal. For some of us, being in the wilderness might mean giving something up so that we have a tangible reminder, every single day, of this journey that we are on.
The manageable piece of the Lenten season is that there is an end in sight. Lent lasts for 40 days and at the end of our journey, there is resurrection. There are Easter flowers and joyous music and a rainbow of spring colours; all profound reminders of the bold and radical truth that God’s love always wins. We will make it through the wilderness. We go into the Lenten season knowing that it will end with an Easter morning. We do the hard work knowing that, even in our most challenging times, God is with us.
What does this mean for us as we begin our Lenten journeys this year? “Maybe it means it’s time to follow Jesus into the desert. It’s time to stay and look evil in the face. Time to hear evil’s voice, recognize its allure, and confess its appeal. It’s time to decide who we are and whose we are. Remember, Lent is not a time to do penance for being human. It’s a time to embrace all that it means to be human. Human and hungry. Human and vulnerable. Human and beloved.”
Blessings in your Lenten season. May God accompany you on this journey. This Lenten season, may you find the holy in the wilderness. May it be for you exactly what you need it to be. May your journey to the cross be filled with hope, strength, love and courage. Remember that we are not alone. And may you find your own resurrection on Easter morning. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Heather Power