Importance of Lent 2-26-12

Importance of Lent 2-26-12

Mark 1:9-15

The forty-day fast in the wilderness beyond the Jordan was God’s idea, you see. He sent the Holy Spirit to Jesus, not only to tell him at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” but also to drive him into physical isolation for an extended period of time during which he could reflect on the meaning of what happened when John baptized him at the river. Jesus, according to Mark, never prayed for the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit not only spoke to him when he emerged from under the water; the Spirit drove him out into the desolate region – the “wilderness” – obviously at the command of God so that Jesus would have time to comprehend the full significance of his baptism. Satan’s temptation was a necessary part of that extended event.
Lent, in the mainstream of the Christian Church, finds its model in the forty-day enforced retreat of Christ beyond the river Jordan. But for too many of us, Lent is confined to the gospel experience we have on Sundays; the forty days of Lent are, for many, literally lost. And it isn’t simply a matter of the Lenten discipline of giving up something, prayer, and fasting, but of a season in which we might reflect on our baptismal experience. Jesus’ “Lent” had to include reflection upon God’s word to him, “You are my Son.” That made the wilderness into a garden again, didn’t it? It took Christ all the way back to the beginning and the unique relationship that the first human beings had with their Creator. Truly, not only in his birth, death, and resurrection, as Paul pointed out, but in his baptism Christ became the Second Adam. Isn’t that really why Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness? Didn’t he want to destroy that relationship, just as he had God’s intimate fellowship with Adam and Eve? But Satan did not succeed this time.
The discipline of Lent has to be connected to the special relationship we have with the Father through Christ and our baptism, or Lent will merely be some type of spring revival or a spiritual exercise meant to improve our spiritual well-being. When we follow Christ into the wilderness, allowing the Spirit and the Word to guide our deliberation, we just might experience genuine Christian freedom, a kind of rebirth in that relationship which he has established for us.
The poet and hymn-writer, Jaroslav Vajda, puts words in the mouths of many contemporary people when he writes:
Oh, to be reborn!
to be able to return to the womb
and begin again;
this time to choose one’s parents,
one’s color, one’s birthplace,
one’s family, one’s future;
to start with a clean slate,
avoid the stupid mistakes,
grasp the missed opportunities,
capture the moment;
this time to be wise,
understanding, loving,
and to value each gift of love;
this time to live fully,
every minute of the brief span.
Vajda speaks from the human condition when he adds:
Foolish dream!
The womb is closed,
the leopard’s spots do not change,
we bind ourselves with the ropes
of past errors and failures,
we limp along on legs long crippled.
But that’s not the way God intends things to be for us. And Jary Vajda catches that intention in Jesus’ “Because I live, you will live also!” He puts the words of culmination of the Lent-Easter experience in our mouths:
… I feel my heart beating
with a new pulse,
My blood throbs with a happy surge,
I am already somebody new:
I think new, I feel new, I see new,
I react new, I love new, I live new.6
That’s what the wilderness-temptation experience of Jesus holds for us during Lent. We have been made new again – through baptism and the Word and the Spirit – through Jesus Christ.
Christ turned the clock back to the very beginning, to the Garden that God created, and has renewed our broken relationship with his Father and ours so that we really have new life in and through him, our Lord. Jary Vajda speaks for us, again, at the end of his poem:
To be reborn! And I am! And I will be!
That’s why Lent is so important for you and me. In the wilderness, Jesus defeated Satan for us and took us back to the Garden – and a new birth that opens up a whole realm of new life for us.
The immediate result of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness was that he began to preach to people when he returned to civilization again. With John thrown in prison and soon to be beheaded by Herod, Jesus took up where John the Baptizer left off in his preaching: “After me comes he who is mightier than I … I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ message, when he returned from the wilderness and began to preach good news, was: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” He realized that it was in him that God had fulfilled the promises made in the prophets to send a deliverer to his people, according to Luke 1:32–34:1.
He will be great, and will be called
the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him
the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of
Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be
no end.
Mark simply puts it: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” It is to be a kingdom, a rule, that will last until the end of time.
And so, during Lent, the other word of Jesus reaches our minds and our hearts: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Lent always has to be a Word-centered experience for the people of God; the Word, Jesus Christ, calls us to repentance, to return to the Lord our God and the things of his kingdom. He makes us realize that we have wandered off from God through our willfulness and sin. We have strayed far from the kingdom at times, and we can’t make our way back without Christ. We are really lost in the wilderness, and Satan and temptation are too much for us. Lent reminds us again that we are dying, and will surely die in the desert, without the help of Jesus Christ. “Repent of your sins and return to me,” are his words to us today. And, he adds, “believe in the gospel.”
You and I know – or should – that those are gifts of grace: repentance and faith. They come to us through the gracious Word of God, Jesus Christ. The Word convicts us of sin and guilt, and that same Word, through the faith it generates, brings us to new life, enabling us to hold onto it when everything in life would take our faith in Christ away from us. So this gospel takes us beyond the traditional discipline of Lent by adding another dimension to our giving, our prayer life, and our fasting. It calls us to a kind of death – through repentance – in our world, our wilderness. And, through Jesus Christ, God’s Word to the world, it offers us life and hope for time and eternity. He has defeated sin and Satan and has destroyed death for all who hear the good news and believe. The tomb will never hold us when we die; “Because he lives, we shall live also.” That’s what Lent is all about.

 

Leave a Comment