“After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” From the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
On Wednesday, we began our annual Lenten season of prayer and fasting in which we participate in the 40 days journey in the wilderness with Jesus. I did not say that we will commemorate this event. Rather, we are called to participate in it.
In most modern Protestant churches, that was just another Wednesday, and the next seven weeks will be as any others. Why don’t they celebrate the seasons like we do?
The reason is they tend to focus on the finished work of Christ. Every Sunday is the same, a sort of Easter celebration all year long. You will never see a Crucifix in most Protestant churches, because they know Jesus is in heaven, and his work is done.
So every Sunday is filled with vibrant praise music, and an uplifting message from Dr. Pastor. Happy, Happy, Happy.
On a recent sunny day, someone said to me that they wished every day could be like that. I said, yes, but then we’d just get bored with it. Change is good.
God’s chosen people of the Old Covenant, as we call it, gave us the tradition of the annual remembrance. In his ordinances, the LORD commanded that the people remember what he did for them by celebrating the feasts of Passover, feast of Tabernacles, and the Annual Day of Atonement, plus many more, every year.
The LORD knew how easy it was for the Hebrews of the Exodus to forget what he had done, and how they would lapse into their former ways of worshipping idols, and ignoring his commandments. Just look what happened while Moses was on the mountain for 40 days!
The LORD also knew that if they didn’t teach their children about these things, they would gradually lose all sense of what it meant to belong to the him.
So when the Christians began to worship the Father together, they carried forth the tradition of keeping annual celebrations so they could keep the life of Jesus fresh in their minds, and teach their children about him and how to live the Christian life.
It is more that remembrance, though. It is about our participation in the life of Jesus. We are the Body of Christ, and when we walk with him, participating in his life, his blessed passion, his precious death, his mighty resurrection, and his glorious ascension, we knit our wills together so that we become more like his every day, and our spirits are filled with the life giving Spirit of Christ.
Jesus is not a man of the past that we simply remember on Sunday. He is the Divine Son of God who is alive right now, living within us every day by his Spirit, seated at the right hand of the Father ruling over his kingdom, and feeding us with his body and blood.
We are not meant to sit back and just remember the mighty acts of God. We are meant to get up and live them every day.
These forty days of Lent is a time to participate with Jesus in his wilderness experience.
The story of today’s Gospel reading is not only about Jesus wrestling with the Devil, it is also about setting the shape of his ministry.
He could simply command stones to become bread, or in other words, he could command people to believe that he is the Messiah. That would work, but not of their own free will.
He could throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple, and show everyone that he is almighty God, and he is immortal and all powerful. That too would work, but again, people would not need any faith.
He could go up on a mountain and see all of creation, and acknowledge that Satan was the ruler of the earth. Could he be tempted to grab all that power at the expense of his divinity? Certainly not.
His ministry would not be shaped by the Devil, or by the world, or even by the preconceived notions of the people. He was tempted in every way we are, yet was without sin. How would we react to the temptations he faced during those forty days?
He can help us resist temptation to sin, too. His holy life can inspire us to imitate him. We are faced with sins that involve our egos, our self-importance, our self-centeredness. We are tempted to judge others by our own standards. Repentance involves turning away from these things, and turning toward the ways of Jesus. How do we follow Jesus?
We can walk with him. Talk to him. Suffer with him for a little while, and prepare to honor his holy Name every day with all of our hearts, our souls, and our minds. Lent gives us an opportunity to grow closer to Jesus, while denying something to ourselves that would distract us from him.
Here is a Lenten rule that was posted by Bp. Iker recently. It was written by Bp. Arthur Lichtenberger, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA from 1958 to 1964.
Fast from criticism, and feast on praise;
Fast from self-pity, and feast on joy;
Fast from ill-temper, and feast on peace.
Fast from resentment, and feast on contentment;
Fast from jealousy, and feast on love;
Fast from pride, and feast on humility;
Fast from selfishness, and feast on service;
Fast from fear, and feast on faith.