For the first Sunday in Lent: http://lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Lent/BLent1_RCL.html
I interrupt our regularly scheduled program to stop and ask: How are you doing? For those of us in Texas, this past week brought a(nother) forced time in a wilderness of sorts. What a disorienting first-world thing to be in our homes with no electricity or water and unable to get anywhere because of impassable roads.
In the reading for today from the good news story of Jesus, Mark introduces Jesus time in the wilderness after his baptism with the words, “and the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.” Matthew and Luke also tell us that the Spirit led or drove or pushed Jesus into the wilderness. This is one of the very rare (the only than I know of) time when Jesus isn’t actively fulfilling God’s plan by his own actions. Throughout his ministry Jesus tells those he heals not to speak of it because his time hasn’t come. He fussed at his own mom because she was asking him to do something before the time was right. Even at his arrest and trial, he gave himself over to the authorities, they did not forcefully take him. And he willingly gave his life.
I know a lot of resilient and courageous people but I don’t know (m)any who would or even could actively plan a week such as we’ve had to test their mettle. If you plan it, it doesn’t count because you’re prepared and don’t have to figure out which pile of snow is the cleanest to bring in the house and let melt so you can flush the toilet or figure out why you are being sent a boil water notice when you have no water and no means to boil it.
I’m also aware that it feels like it’s been lent for about a year now and that we just keep going deeper and deeper into the wilderness and darkness. I mean, what more can come our way – pandemic, social and civil violence, the politicalization of issues that should be simple acts of human kindness and compassion, a violent attack on our government, and in Texas a near collapse of our electrical system (and the cascading effect of loss of water and the disruption of the food supply system) as a result of profits being put above people.
Ash Wednesday and Lent, even without disaster happening around us, remind us of two things: although the ash process is painful, with intention and effort, good stuff comes from ashes. Ashes can be used to enhance the soil in your garden and boost your compost, as a de-icer, to repel slugs, and to make soap.
I don’t know why the writers of the good news story chose the words they did to convey that Jesus was forced, led, and driven into the wilderness. Perhaps they chose to write it this way so that when we find ourselves in situations not of our active choosing, we know that Jesus meets us there, too, with the compassion and love that enables us to make good stuff from the ashes.
The season of Lent and the actions we choose to observe this time are to enable us to grow deeper in relationship with God. The intentional act of giving something up helps us learn how much of our lives we’ve let get in the way of our awareness of God. When we have all that we need and want we come to depend too much on ourselves.
When the life we have defined and constructed for ourselves begins to crack and crumble we become afraid. Jesus says to us “do not be afraid, follow me toward God, so that even in the wilderness, you will know the abundance of life God intends for you.” This is the message of Good News we all need to hear. With God there is hope, there is light in the darkness, there is ever-flowing living water of life. Together with God’s help lets live into the kingdom Jesus shows us, in this wilderness time and always. Amen.