For Reflection: this week Gill reflects on the journey of Lent
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And 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. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
At some point we all leave home. It is something we do throughout our lives. We’ve all done it. We leave home physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We leave those places that are familiar, comfortable, predictable. Those places that have shaped our identity, that have given structure and meaning to our lives. Sometimes we can’t wait to leave. We’re ready to go. Other times we would rather not leave, but circumstances make it necessary. Regardless of how or why it happens, leaving home is a part of life. It happens in lots of different ways and times.
Young adults move out of their parent’s home to start university or work. And significant changes of life - major decisions that bring us to the crossroads of life, are forms of leaving home: a marriage; the birth of a child; the death of a loved one; a new job, as Benjamin is discovering; the loss of a job; the loss of health or retirement, as I discovered last year. They are all forms of leaving home.
Leaving home can be difficult, disorientating, frightening. It challenges our understandings of where we find significance, meaning, and security.
It’s a risky business leaving home - they can be moments where we feel we shrink a little; but they can also be moments of growth because the disorientation and vulnerability of leaving home opens us up to change. It invites us to recalibrate our lives, to re-set our compass, and in those moments of disruption and vulnerability we are in need of God.
Leaving home is not, simply about the circumstances of our lives, throughout the bible it is the way of God’s people.
Adam and Eve left the garden. Noah left his home and dry land. God told Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you”. Jacob ran away from home fearing for his life. Moses and the Israelites left their homes in Egypt. And in today’s gospel Jesus is leaving home.
As Mark tells it, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” to the Jordan River. He left his home and now stands with John in the Jordan, the border between home and the wilderness. There he is baptised. The heavens are torn apart, the Spirit like a dove descends, and a voice declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” From there “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Baptism may happen in the river but the baptismal life begins in the wilderness.
This story is not, however, just about Jesus. It is our story too. The Father’s words refer to Jesus but they also apply to each one of us. By grace, gift, and the choice of God we are his beloved daughters and sons.If leaving home, getting baptised, and going to the wilderness is Jesus’s way then it is our way too. We leave behind our old identity, we are identified and claimed by God as his children, and we go to the wilderness.
That’s what this holy season of Lent is about. Lent is about leaving home and leaving home, in Lent and life, always takes us to the wilderness.
The wilderness is an in between place. It is a place of liminality, a threshold. We are betwixt and between. Neither here nor there. We have left behind what was and what will be is not yet clear. In the wilderness we come face to face with the reality of our lives; things done and left undone, our fears, our hopes and dreams, our sorrows and losses, as well as the unknown. These facts of our life are the source of our demons and temptations.
The Christian journey into the wilderness is never easy. Very few people say that Lent is their favorite liturgical season. And this season of Lent will be harder than ever this year, because this pandemic has forced a kind of leaving home that has left us all in the wilderness for a very long time. The structures, routines and relationships that define our lives have been disrupted. We have not been able to do what we would normally do together as families, friends or a church community and we face an uncertain future. Our economy has taken a seismic shock, people are struggling emotionally and physically, and many institutions – including the church are facing a financial crisis. We are entering this season of Lent weary with the wilderness. However, there is no doubt that as we emerge from this wilderness experience the choices that we make as individuals, communities and a church will determine whether we shrink or whether we will grow.
Rowan Williams in his book Being Disciples reminds us that our call as Christians is to inject hope into the bleakest and most desperate of situations in a cynical and weary world, and we do that he says by being watchful and attentive in the wilderness and look for clues as to how reality is being re-organised around Jesus.
We are hosting a series of Lent Talks on zoom over the next five weeks and I encourage you all to take up talking for Lent. Rather than seeing Lent this year as adding yet more misery into our lives we are inviting people to join a conversation about how the leaving home this pandemic has forced upon us is not so much a loss for us but an opportunity for God to show us the way to growth.
Our guest speakers will help us pause, ponder and be attentive to ways in which we can inject hope into our communities and re-calibrate our lives around the lessons we have learned in this wilderness we find ourselves in.
This wilderness is new territory for us. It is not, however, uncharted territory. The way has already been cleared by Jesus. And the way he has cleared is the way home, the way to God. We are in the wilderness with the knowledge and confidence that Christ has gone before us.
Jesus entered the wilderness with a mantra on his lips -words spoken to him at his baptism in the murkiness of the River Jordan – the same words spoken to us at our baptism. Words whispered to him and to us by the angels amidst the wild beasts of the desert “Remember who you are,” is their message. “You are a beloved son of God. You are a beloved daughter of God. You are one with whom he is well pleased.” They encourage and reassure us. We leave home and experience wilderness temptations to discover that our most authentic identity is as a beloved child of God, and our only real home is with God who created us out of love in order to bring love into the world. In the wilderness Jesus refocuses so that no other god is able to exert influence over the primary aim of his life, that of love and service to the world. In the wilderness reality is re-organised around Jesus primarily through love
May we in our conversations this Lent take the time to be attentive – may we take time to think about how we build on the small acts of love, kindness and generosity that have been planted during the pandemic and may we respond to our Christian calling to re-orientate our lives around the love that Jesus revealed in the world so that Christmas, Good Friday and Easter come alive in us in ways we can’t begin to imagine.
Questions for reflection
- What have been the wilderness moments in your life?
- How have you experienced the love of God in those moments?
- How might we nurture the seeds of change that have been planted in the Coronavirus wilderness we have been wandering in?