Eucharist – 1st Sunday of Lent – 21st Feb 2021
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
On these two Sundays, either side of Ash Wednesday, we hear of a voice coming from heaven. The gospel-writer we know as Mark uses this to assure us – the reader – that Jesus the person is connected most intimately with God; indeed, is part of God, innately related to God.
Last Sunday, at the Transfiguration, the voice commanded the disciples on the mountain to “Listen to him!” – listen to Jesus. This weekend, at the baptism of Christ, the voice speaks directly to Jesus: “You are my Son…with you I am well pleased.” What a wonderful thing for a parent to tell a child.
Last Sunday, after the voice speaks, Jesus and his friends climbed down the mountain. This Sunday, once the voice speaks, we hear that the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness. Of course, in these forty days of Lent, we go with Jesus into the wilderness too: “to be tempted and yet undefiled,” so goes the famous hymn we shall not be singing on Sunday.
We can expect to be tempted – for there is always temptation for those trying to be faithful in prayer, a challenge to still our wandering minds, and in acts of service for friend and stranger.
But we can expect support, too. In the story, Jesus finds comfort from the wild beasts. Not the domesticated pets that we love, or have loved. But in the wild and potentially dangerous desert animals: be they wolves or snakes or scorpions, as in this picture by Stanley Spencer. Jesus cradles the scorpion, as if protecting it. Can you look at the picture for thirty seconds? What are your eyes drawn to? What do you notice?
Jesus also finds support in angels. Not the pretty ones from Christmas cards made up in the minds of Italian painters but angels that are mighty, strong, powerful, and courageous. The angels look after that which has taken on the frailty of the human body – our flesh and our bone.
Jesus was not alone in the wilderness with his angels and desert animals. Nor are we.
In this holy season of Lent, in the midst of a global plague, the Church still calls us to self-examination and repentance through prayer, fasting and self-denial. But the Church also asks us to take time to ponder God’s word, meditating on it and seeking wisdom as we try to grow in holiness.
Does this sound like a tall order at the moment? Perhaps, this year of all years, Lent feels just a bit too much. No one would blame you if that were the case.
This Lent, if you can, head to a wild place in your mind or in person. Spend a while there, notice the animals running, crawling or flying. Ask the angels to bear you up and support you for what lies ahead, known or unknown. There is nothing to fear in the wilderness but it can still be scary. Journey well as you ponder and pray.