Monday 16 February 2015

Lent 1, Temptation and Wilderness, Mark 1:9-13

Lent is named from the Anglo Saxon, Lenten meaning lengthening of days when in the first three centuries of the church a few days were set aside for strict fasting. By the 4th century the preparation time had developed to 40 days. Lent was seen as a time of personal preparation for Easter. In the Roman Catholic Church fasting is still encouraged on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday. In the Eastern Orthodox Church not eating eggs, meat and fish is still common, which is why painted eggs are given out on Easter Sunday as I experienced in Nazareth some years ago.

Mark gives us a shorthand description of the baptism of Jesus and his testing in the wilderness.
John, calls out Israel to gather at the water's edge in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. From Nazareth in Galilee, a place of lawless Judaism, secularized, syncretized, comes a true Israelite. He comes to John by the river Jordan. and he undertakes a rite of turning away/repentance
The Exodus theme continues-as Israel gathered before Mt. Sinai, so God speaks. In Jesus, the new Israel, represented by the dove, will be built in the power of God's Spirit.

Lent is a replay of Elijah's and Jesus' wilderness experience. It is about repentance. On Ash Wednesday we hear the words "turn away from sin. we must turn to God. Repentance involves turning away from self to Jesus. Lent is about refocusing on Jesus.

There is a wilderness in our lives. When things go wrong the loneliness of wilderness is close to us. We sense beasts. we first need to accept the call of the wilderness and face the darkness. We have to return to the desert and we will experience Satan.

The powers of darkness will test our faith. But we are not alone. Angels will be with us.In the stories in the gospels Jesus was led into the dry dusty desert. If youve ever been to a desert you will know how barren it is and yet how awesome that endless sandy, orange and red. Looking at it reminds us of how small we are in this world. Its humbling. We all have these times when we are in an alien place either psychologically or really and we feel alone with no resources. Its frightening. 

Jesus ate nothing during those days and he was very hungry. If you havent eaten for 40 days and are hungry you are open to visions, to the spiritual, both the divine and the demonic. In our own lives we face similar choices. We may feel we have entered a desert in our lives. A time of hunger, thirst, dryness. We may choose to fast and pray to give us a clarity. You may choose to go into a desert or be driven there. For many people in our society today there is no choice. They are in a wilderness. Its a common experience not just something that happened 2000 years ago. When things go wrong, sickness, worries, the loneliness of wilderness is close to us. We sense beasts.We will be tempted to make the wrong choices and those choices will make life easier but not ultimately be the right decision for our well being or society's.  Being in a desert is a time of polarisation. In the desert we experience and recognise evil more keenly. We doubt who we are and what we are doing. The powers of darkness test our faith. The wilderness is a place of horror, loneliness. But we are not alone. We will be entertained by angels who will come as real people who we can lean on to sustain and affirm us in the wilderness. Angels will be with us and the desert time will pass.



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