"Sorrow for sin is indeed necessary, but it should not involve endless self-preoccupation. You should also dwell on the glad remembrance of the loving kindness of God". Bernard of Clairvaux
Lent is the time when we think of Jesus in the Wilderness and that story is the Gospel reading we have just heard. But the wilderness also belongs to us. It is always lurking somewhere, as part of our experience, and there are times when it can seem pretty near the whole of it. Most people's wilderness is inside them, not outside. Our wilderness is an inner isolation. It's an absence of contact. It's a sense of being alone, sometimes boringly alone, or saddeningly alone, or terrifyingly alone.
Lent is a necessary part, or a necessary stage, of our experience as human beings. It, therefore, found a place in the life of Jesus as we have just heard. Because He is us, he too did time in the wilderness. And what happened to him there shows us what is happening to ourselves. Here, as always, we see in His life the meaning in our own lives. Notice that it is by the Spirit that Jesus is driven into the wilderness; the same Spirit that had brought him the conviction of being called to do great things. The Spirit of God is ourselves in the depths of what we are. It is us, at the profoundest level of our being, the level at which we can no longer distinguish between what is our self and what is greater than our self. And it is from this place, where God and we mingle indistinguishably that we are thrown out into the wilderness.
This story of Jesus reminds us that being thrown out in this way must be an inevitable result of our call to God's service. And so we are tempted by Satan. Tempted to give up, to despair. Tempted to cynicism. Tempted sometimes to cruelty. Tempted not to help others when we know we can because we think, what's the use. Tempted to banish from our life all that we really hold most dear which is love. Tempted to lock ourselves up, so that when we pass by people say, "There goes a dead person". And behind each and all of these temptations is the temptation to disbelieve in what we are, the temptation to distrust ourselves, to deny that it is the Spirit that bears witness with our Spirit. God in us.
And what is the manifestation, the true manifestation of God in us?
I should like to quote some words of William Law. William Law was an 18thC Anglican Divine, he wrote several treatises and was a great influence on such luminaries as Samuel Johnson and John and Charles Wesley. In his treatise, The Spirit of Love, he wrote as follows:
"Nothing wills or works with God but the spirit of love, because nothing else works in God himself. The Almighty brought forth all nature for this end only, that boundless love might have its infinity of height and depth to dwell and work in. And all the striving and working properties of nature are only to give essence and substance, life and strength, to the invisible hidden spirit of love".
You may have seen a car sticker that says, in large letters, Jesus loves you, but then in tiny letters it goes on to say but everyone else thinks you're an idiot. Well isn't that just the point? Jesus loves us regardless of who we are, what we do, or even what other people think of us. He showed that love for us by dying the most painful and horrific death. Jesus shows us, in that one action, that Love is about sacrifice and commitment. We celebrate that love today, it is what the Mass is all about. The elements of bread and wine represent Christ's body and blood, so when we come up to Communion we are actually tasting the love of God. But, as Christians, we are called to take that love into the world and at the end of the Mass we are invited to go in peace and serve the Lord beyond these doors. Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us. Clearly he doesn't want us to die for one another, although some have done that. What we, as Christians, are called to do is to start by being accepting and understanding of, others. After all, isn't that what Christ himself did. He accepted those that society marginalized or excluded altogether. But it doesn't stop there. In the same way that we have a relationship with Jesus through our prayer life and by meeting Him in Holy Communion, we need to build relationships with one another. It is clear from the Gospels that we are to love our enemies, that one another does not mean just those we like. It is pretty easy to love those we like and get on with but what about those we really can't bear or all those we totally disapprove of? We have to love all with whom we come in contact and to try to make the world a better place as a result.
As the writer of Isaiah says,
I the Lord have called you with a righteous purpose
and taken you by the hand;
I have formed you, and destined you to be a light for peoples,
A lamp for the nations.
This then is our Lent, our going with Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.
But it is also about our Christian belief in hope and salvation. As St Paul says in his letter to the Romans,
No one who has faith in Him will be put to shame:
there is no distinction between Jew and Greek,
because the same Lord is Lord of all,
and has riches enough for all who call on Him.
For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
Christ's glory is His full and satisfying communion with all that is. It is the opposite of being isolated. You don't have to wait for this until you die or the world comes to an end. It can be yours now. Accept your wilderness. From the Gospel story, realise what your Lent really means, and then the angels will minister to you as they did to Him. Amen.
© Peter Hannaway