Our forty-day Lenten journey began on Wednesday. The forty days count only the week-days; Sundays are not included since every Sunday is a “Little Easter.” The date of Ash Wednesday differs each year; the earliest possible date is February 4thand the latest is March 10th. This year the season of Lent began fairly late so Easter may feel late. It may seem a little early to speak of spring, but, in one sense, we are already in the season of spring . You may wonder why.
The word, Lent, is derived from an English word for “spring.” This is not just a reference to the crocuses pushing their ways out of the ground in the season before Easter, but also to the greening of the human soul, pruned with repentance, fertilized with fasting, and mulched with prayer. The season of Lent is not a time for self-punishment or demeaning the human condition. It is not about giving up Hershey’s or taking on Pilates. Rather, it is a time for preparing a mending the soil in the flowerbeds and choosing seeds and plants and the various tools needed for gardening. The season of Lent is a time of preparing for growth.
A popular notion of the season of Lent is that we must “give up something.” We are often asked, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Various responses are expected: red meat, sweets, or perhaps excess television or Internet browsing. Perhaps we need to give up that simplistic notion of Lent. Liturgical scholars say that, “Lent is not giving up something but rather taking upon ourselves the intention and the receptivity to God’s grace so that we may participate in the mystery of [Emmanuel,] God-with-us” (Stookey et al., The New Handbook of the Christian Year, p.106). During this season of Lent, “intentionality” and “receptivity to God’s grace” are two disciplines we need to take upon ourselves as we journey through this season. I will return to this topic of discipline later.
Today’s scripture is a story found in all three gospels – a story which tells about the tests that Jesus faced early in his ministry. The story is very brief in Mark and longer in Matthew and Luke; in all three gospels it follows immediately upon Jesus’ baptism. We are told that the spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and was tested by the devil. It is at the end of these forty days of fasting that Satan, the devil, the tempter, comes to him.
Last week I said in my reflection “Jesus is making a full circle as he faces his impending suffering and death” (“The Courage to be Transformed,” March 3). As Jesus faces the challenging days ahead, he hears the affirming voice again. The meaningful circle in today’s Gospel reading is located right after the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus is baptised he hears God’s affirmation, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:32). After that, Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness where for forty days he was tested by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2). The Spirit does not just “drop him off” in the wilderness to fend for himself; the Spirit continues to abide with him, enabling him to grow stronger throughout this season.
Since we all know the story and you may have heard hundreds of sermons on today’s text, I will skip restating what the three temptations are. What I want to focus on instead is that the test takes place in the wilderness not a desert in Arizona, but a place we face on our life journey. I have been there; probably you have too. Maybe it just looked like a hospital waiting room to you, or the sheets on a cheap motel bed after you got kicked out of your house, or maybe it looked like the parking lot where you couldn’t find your car on the day you lost your job. It may even have been a kind of desert in the middle of your chest, where you asked for a word from God and heard nothing but the wheezing bellows of your own breath.
Wildernesses come in so many shapes, sizes, times and places that the only way we can really be sure is to look around for what we normally count on to save our life, and come up empty. No food! No earthly power! No special protection, but a whole bunch of sand.
On a cold winter day in late February, our beautiful daughter Saepom was born. At a time when we were experiencing wilderness in this newly landed country, we named her, in Korean, new spring (새봄). Just as new spring brings hope and new life, we wished her life to be filled with hope. You too may have experienced wilderness hope in your wilderness.
When you think about wilderness, what images come to your mind? At first, you may think that a wilderness experience is always filled with bad news, but I don’t think it is. I think it is good news, because even if no one ever wants to experience it, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be. Here is confirmation of what I just said. Take Jesus, for instance.
How did he end up there? The Spirit led him
What was he full of? He was full of the Holy Spirit
What else did he live on? NothingHow long was he there? Weeks and weeks
How did he feel at the end? He was famished, but he was free.
At this point you may ask: “Wait a minute! How can we experience God’s grace in the wilderness? How can we feel the Spirit in the wilderness?”
The problem for most of us is that we cannot go straight from sitting down for an evening of hockey on the television to hearing the still, small voice of God in the wilderness. If it worked like that, churches would be full and hockey arenas would be out of business. If it worked like that, Lent would only last for about ten minutes. After this service it would be done. But remember the season of Lent goes on for forty days every year.
Now let us return to consider the meaning of Lent: The season of Lent is not about giving up, but of taking on - “intentionality” and “receptivity to God’s grace.” In our wilderness experience, God is with us all the way, so let us intentionally connect with God – intentionality in repentance, fellowship, prayer, fasting, meditation on the scripture, acts of piety, acts of justice, remembering our Baptismal covenant and remembering those who are in the wilderness with us, both near and far away.
Lent is a season; it is a season of preparing for Easter. We may feel cold and lonely and don’t know where the end of the long road is. Let us remember that the place of wilderness is where we experience God’s grace, where we are mindful of our own life and the lives of others experiencing the wilderness. Our brothers and sisters in the First Nations are experiencing wilderness because their rights affirmed in “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act”are NOT fully implemented in Canada. So, we urge the Senate to pass Bill C-262, since the Senate holds decision-making power to bring Canada closer to honest and fair relationships with the First Nations. I encourage you support this campaign through send e-letter, phone calls and social media.
The season of Lent is a season to reflect on wilderness - not only my own but also others - and to reflect on God’s grace. In this season of Lent, we learn to trust the Spirit that led us there to lead us out again. To experience God’s grace, we are invited to God’s table. Come, come to the table of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Quiet Reflection for Individual Reflection &Group Discussion for Lenten Companionship
The meaning of Lent is “spring.” How can we embrace the season in faithful action or discipleship?
Recall your wilderness experience and think about others who are living in the wilderness with you.
How have you experienced God’s grace while you were in the wilderness?
Lent is not giving up something but rather intentionally becoming receptive to God’s grace so that we may participate in the mystery of God. How will you participate in the mystery of God in this season of Lent?
Take action to urge the Senate to pass the Bill C-262 thorough e-letter, phone calls and social media. You may find a sample e-letter at this link: https://secure.kairoscanada.org/node/13