“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil”.
As I am sure most of you are aware, these words begin the passage of the Bible that is the one that defines the part of the church year that we enter during the month of February in 2018, namely Lent. The forty days and forty nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness are the blueprint so to speak, that the church uses to define how each and every Christian around the world should spend the period that directly precedes the great feast of Easter. Indeed, it is used to help us see how we should prepare ourselves for this time. For Jesus of course, this period was in many ways a difficult one: the sun beat down upon him in the desert, there was nothing to eat, such that, as the next verse of Luke’s version of this time describes it, “he was famished”. And most of all, his time was spent being tested, teased and tormented by the adversary mentioned at the end of the opening verses above – the devil. All these things would seem to suggest that Lent is a time of difficulty and hardship. And more than this, if this time for Jesus is indeed our blueprint for Lenten living then it would seem to suggest that the only possible answer to the question posed to me recently “must Lent always be a sad time” for those who follow him, must surely be an unequivocal “yes”!
And yet for me this is not actually the case, nor indeed can or should it be for anyone else. In fact, I would say that the truth is that Lent is instead both a time of hope and indeed an opportunity. To be clear our lives can and often will be times when we face hardship and sorrows just like Jesus did; and yes as I turn from writing these words and look out of my window at the white blanket of snow that has fallen overnight here in Burnopfield, even the weather can, although admittedly in a very different way, cause us trouble and strife and make our lives difficult, just like it did for Jesus. But if we only focus on the hardship of this time for our Lord, then I feel that we are missing the most vital aspect of the period that Jesus spent in the wilderness. The truth that no matter what he faced, Christ through turning to God and through trusting in the things that his faith taught him, received the support and the resolve that he needed to survive any and all tests thrown at him. When facing the harsh place where he found himself and when tested by the devil, it was words of the Bible, it was knowledge of the love of God for him that saw Jesus through.
For me then, with Christ’s time in the desert as our blueprint for living, Lent can be as I suggested an opportunity that we can take that will allow us to do the same as Jesus and this is exactly what the season of Lent can and should be for. So no, Lent does not need to be a sad time, instead it can and should be a time when we, like him, focus ourselves on God and on our faith, perhaps through prayer, perhaps through study, perhaps through reflection, or perhaps through thinking about different aspects of how we live our lives. And we look to these things to build our faith and hence give us hope that in God and with this renewed faith we can find the strength and face anything that the world and the devil can throw at us. And it might be a time then for you to join us at St James’ church for our services or times of prayer, either those that we have especially for Lent and Easter, or those that we have throughout the year, and of course then, during Lent as well.
Lent then is not a time to beat ourselves up about how we live our lives, and who we are as we live them, but instead a chance to make ourselves better able to face whatever hardship may come our way. And nor is it a sad time, a time to wallow in the wilderness (certainly not in and of itself anyway), but instead a time to make ourselves ready to face Jesus with joy when he comes in glory at Easter; and to make ourselves ready in the meantime to cope with any times that we may feel that we find ourselves in the wilderness, during this time of Lent and beyond.