It is a privilege to be writing to you again as we approach Lent. What is your focus for the Lenten season? How will you prepare for celebrating Easter?
When I was a child I was aware that one of our neighbours always used to stop smoking during Lent. It was a practice that then stood him in good stead when later in life he developed heart disease and had to quit smoking for ever. This neighbour cultivated year on year self-discipline and managed to break, for a few weeks at least, the habit of smoking.
As we start into Lent what do you have mind?
One model for Lent is Jesus’ own experience of going into the wilderness after he was baptised by John the Baptist, his cousin, in the River Jordan. The gospels all record Jesus baptism but only the first three gospels record Jesus being led or driven into the wilderness where Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by the devil. The gospels then record how after this wilderness experience Jesus then began his public ministry. John’s gospel for some reason skips the 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.
Jim Crace wrote about Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness in his book ‘Quarantine’. Quarantine means 40 days. Crace’s book is not written from a Christian perspective so helps us look from a different perspective on Jesus’ wilderness sojourn. Remember too that Jesus frequently returned to the wilderness, away from people to pray and to meet with His Father. After Christianity was accepted by the Roman Empire women and men moved from their comfortable urban homes to live in the desert, to experience the challenge of a hostile environment as they had experienced before the official adoption of Christianity in the 4th century.
Desert fathers and mothers lived in caves, remote places away from creature comforts. They would encourage those looking for knowledge of God and themselves to ‘go to your cell and your cell will teach you’. Do we have a wilderness, a cell, a place of aloneness where we can go and meet with the Lord, where we can leave the comfort of home behind us, even for an hour or two and come back refreshed because we have met with the Lord, or wrestled with our demons. A cursory reading of the bible shows us the many experiences of God that happened in the desert. During Lent let us impose on ourselves some desert boundaries to our lives in order to make space in our lives to experience afresh the living God.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke give similar accounts of the three temptations experienced by Jesus. Satan was trying to get Jesus to follow his way, to turn from being his father’s son, God incarnate. We are similarly tempted to trust in ourselves or others rather than the Lord, to follow our own inclinations rather than God’s and to worship success, and other good things in life (even church!) rather than to worship the Lord from the very core of our being. The apostle Paul talks about ‘Jesus being tempted as we are tempted’ – the three temptations recorded in the gospel mirror the temptations what we as Christians face as we seek to follow the Lord in the context of our everyday lives.
At the Service of Baptism the one being baptised is signed with the cross on their forehead. They are encouraged to:
Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ
against sin, the world and the devil,
and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life.
Are we ready to carry on this fight during Lent, to take a hard look at ourselves and God and to meet afresh with the Lord. Lent not only helps us to refresh and refocus but to be renewed, ready to experience afresh the Easter narrative of death, resurrection and new life. The Lent groups are about stepping out of the boat and walking with Christ. Let us pray for each other as we travel through Lent towards Easter.
May you know the goodness of God during this season,