A voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. In this short piece of scripture we participate in the breadth of life in God. We witness the awesomeness of blessing as Jesus is baptized by John in the river, and we experience the power of the water to give and take life. And then the water laps to the shore of the river, and before it can even recede, long before the water ever dries, we feel the heat and the dryness, the hunger and the fear of the wilderness desert.
Blow the trumpet in Zion, we heard from the prophet Joel on Ash Wednesday, for the day of the Lord is coming. Joel calls us to return to God with all our heart, for God is gracious and merciful. Our return is what God waits for, God yearns for. Our wilderness adventure, turning back toward God has begun. We were immersed in the waters of baptism, like Jesus is the Jordan. We were marked with oil as Christ’s own forever, and that cross on our foreheads that is an indelible mark was retraced with the ashes that remind us that we are from dust, and to dust we will return. The water, the dust, life, and mortality. We are in the midst of it all, in the mud and the mess. We are embarking on the wilderness journey; the Lenten journey takes us into the promise God makes, that we will never be without God’s presence shown by the symbol of God’s presence, the rainbow. Our Lenten journey takes us through the place of hunger and thirst, and of wilderness wandering.
I have said out loud to many people that I would prefer not to do Lent. I would prefer to raise my hands and voice in praise and glory, and never drop to my knees in confession and penitence. I would prefer to shout Alleluias and never pray Lord have mercy. That is why I’m not the one in charge. That’s why God is God and I am not. That is the wonder and glory of our church. We are called to places that we would prefer not to go, like desert and wilderness. Remember the ashes. Remember the seed. Remember the fertile ground.
The new life that God promises is ours. It is ours today, right now. God’s abundant and amazing love washes over and through and among us. We don’t work for it, we don’t give things up, or make things right to get God’s love, because God’s love is not dependent on us at all.
But as you and I know, we get so easily distracted. We are often like babies, easily entertained by the baubles and bangles all around us. We tend to let the narrative of narcissism and greed get the best of us, not just as individuals, but in our common life as well. We take when we really need to give. We argue when we really need to be partners in conversation so that we may effect change for the common good. We close our eyes and fall asleep when we need to remain vigilant in our advocacy for those who do not have a voice to speak.
Lent reminds us of whom we truly are. We are creatures made of dust, and to dust we shall return. We are loved abundantly and amazingly by God our creator, we know this because God has come into our lives and shown us how to live fully and completely. Living fully and completely means that wilderness and desolation, as well as joy and thanksgiving, are all part of our lives.
Lent calls us to turn around, to kneel down, and to play in the mud and the mess. Lent calls us to get our hands dirty in the soil that will give rise to the wheat, or the shrubs or the trees. Remember that wilderness is not nothing, but wilderness is something. Under the surface life is teeming. Under the surface is where the work takes place. Under the surface is water is collected, deep down and in other places we cannot see, collected so that new life may erupt. When we emerge from the wilderness, when the seedlings peek their greenness up from the ground, we will bask in the sunshine again. But we can’t get there without this journey. We can’t get there without Lent. We can’t get there without lying still for a while.
This is lent, the laying quiet, being watered by these waters of the river Jordan, the waters of baptism. Letting our brokenness be healed. Letting our scattered and fragmented selves be but back together again. Like after the rain, as the sun comes out, and you see a rainbow in the sky. Your whole self, made new by God’s amazing love appears, full of color, full of life, nothing like you looked before.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.
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