“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10
Lent 1B 2015: Words, Water and Wilderness!
This week we begin the season of Lent which can help us to celebrate the very heart of our faith - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a time for penance and of hope. It is a time when we reflect upon the profound meaning of the word "covenant". The word covenant is an ancient word that speaks to the power of a promise spoken and made between two persons. In the Christian scriptures, God is the one who always takes the 'initiative' to make covenant with humans. We take up the Noah story in Genesis (9:8-17) after the Flood and read the words; "See, I establish my Covenant with you, and your descendents after you; and also with every living creature ..." and of Jesus taken by "The Spirit" into "the wilderness" (Mark 1:9-15) where he experienced temptation.
As in the time of Noah, the sights and sounds of evil are present in our society, seen in our exposure to the wilful abuse of one human being by another; the night time TV dramas that celebrate and act out violence against persons. The emphasis on sexual images does violence to the fully human nature potential in people. The documentaries on the events of war and atrocities, political corruption and commercial greed, can lead us feeling numb and down hearted. What about God's tolerance for the evil of human kind? God saved eight people from the evil generation around them by means of water. God saves us from the evil generation around us by means of water and Spirit through Baptism.
I have often wondered what thoughts ran through Noah’s mind after the flood, as he surveyed the scene before him. Did the destruction, loneliness and isolation terrify him? What did he think of the God whose divine power seemed to have caused such destruction? The Genesis text gives us only the basic details. What about Jesus, alone in the wilderness, with only "wild beasts" for company, was he to lonely, and frightened by his isolation? Mark’s account doesn’t give us any of the details. There is no reported conversation with Satan. We are left to fill in the blanks for ourselves about Jesus’ self-encounter. This type of self-encounter encounter can happen during Lent as we enter our lonely interior landscape. "The Spirit" can 'drive' us if we are willing into the wilderness through our practices of fasting, self-denial, and prayer. In our "secret" prayerful quiet times, we will find all that we tend to avoid through our busy frenetic routine days, that can hide our deep anxiety, insecurity, and fearfulness. Our authentic prayer can reveal our deep helplessness in the face of our sin and the chaos of the world in which we live. It is no easy work to make sense of the past or to face the claim that God has put on our lives through our baptismal covenant.
The good news of scriptures is that this is not the end of the story. The message of the Noah and Jesus story is not centered on either the chaotic devastation of the world or of the Satan (accuser) who threatens to undo us. It is centered on the promise and power of the One who not only created this world and called "it good", but the One who promises to protect, sustain, and restore the world and ALL who live in it. We can feel at times despair and doubt as we face our weakness, with temptations within and fears without. However, God remains loyal to the disloyal; faithful to the faithless. The "rainbow" sign says, that God’s intention for his creation is to end the cycle of violence and retribution with love and compassion. God is with us in our wilderness and like Jesus we are given strength beyond our own and "the angels" to care for us. Lent challenges us to come to terms with the fact that though devastation and the isolation of wilderness are far from God’s original intention for creation, it is through these terrible, harsh realities that God brings forth new life. The "rainbow" represents an unconditional promise, of God’s willingness to limit God’s power and freedom for the sake of the life of the world that God so loves. It is in the self-denial of the wilderness that Jesus confirms before God, his identity and the mission of life through death that flows from it.
The scripture readings of lent will remind us that being drawn through death for the sake of new life. They will lead us to a greater understanding of God’s compassionate presence, promise keeping, and self-denying love for a broken world proclaimed on the cross. When we enter into our personal lenten wilderness, we too can experience the power