The Meaning of Lent
by HW in HI
based on Mat. 4:1-11, et al
This is the first Sunday of Lent. Our church looks a little different today. If you
look for our Paschal Candle thats the candle we light for Easter and for
Baptisms if you look for the Paschal candle, you will not find it. The Baptismal
font is gone. There are no flowers behind the altar.
This is Lent. A special time in the church year when we spend a little time thinking
about the great sacrifice Jesus made for us by dying on a cross. When we spend a little
more time praying. When we spend a little more time reading the Bible. When we do a little
more for others.
Lent comes from the Old English word for Spring Lenten. It lasts for the 40 days
before Easter. We use forty days because Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness.
Jesus was baptized and he headed for the hills. He took off by himself for the
wilderness, and spent 40 days alone without food. Here on the Big Island, we are probably
in the best place in Hawaii to imagine what that was like. Tthere is not much wilderness
left in the world. But perhaps we can imagine him taking off for Waipio Valley, and
emerging 40 days later, exhausted.
People sometimes talk about the spiritual wilderness. Those times in our lives when we
cant find God. For many of us these times happen when loss or disaster hit our
lives. When a dearly loved relative or friend dies, this often leaves us wondering where
God is. Or we find ourselves diagnosed with cancer or heart problems where is God?
Or our child comes down with a terrible illness and some well-meaning friend looks us
square in the eye and says, Well, it was Gods will. Right there- thats
the wilderness. Those times of wandering and wondering.
Perhaps a profound sense of the wilderness hits us for no reason at all. Our lives seem
to be going on just fine: God is present, our loved ones are fine, we have plenty we love
to do, no problem with the prayer life and we wake up so depressed we almost cant
bear to get out of bed. And no idea why. Thats the wilderness, too.
As we get older we seem to have suffered more loss, so there can be more justification
for feeling we are in a wilderness time. In truth, though, age has nothing to do with it.
This sense of the wilderness can be strongest in our youth. There is a song being played
over and over again on the radio these days. I can only get four radio stations, so I
inevitably hear it once or twice a week. The song is called Torn, and part of
it goes like this: My inspiration has run dry / That's what's going on / Nothing's
fine I'm torn / I'm all out of faith / This is how I feel / I'm cold and I am shamed /
Lying naked on the floor. The author of this song is Natalie Imbruglia, and she is
24 years old.
Adam and Eve in this mornings story from the Old Testament book of Genesis find
themselves in pretty much the same situation. Actually, its a whole lot worse. At
the beginning of creation, in the earliest of times, they had everything they needed. But
somehow that wasnt enough, and so they ate from the tree of knowledge. It was almost
as if they said, Gee, thanks God, for what youve given me. Its
everything I need. But I want more! I must have more! And God said something like,
Okay. But now you have free choice. You get to choose. All the time. Choose the
right thing or choose the wrong thing. And something more, you will be tempted to choose
the wrong thing, because where youre going, sometimes there is evil... And
Adam and Eve found themselves in the wilderness. I would guess they felt a whole lot like
that song, all out of faith, cold and ashamed. For all intents and purposes, Adam and Eve
were in the wilderness.
There are two threads to this wilderness business. The first is a wilderness you do not
choose, but where you find yourself. The second is a deliberate choice to seek the
wilderness. Adam and Eve were flung there. Jesus walked right in. Jesus chose the
wilderness as a way of preparing his soul.
A member of St. James asked me last week if you have to follow Lent. Do you have
to choose the wilderness? Thats a good question. For most of us, the answer is yes.
We really do, if we expect to grow in our relationship with God, because Lent prepares our
souls for God. But there are times when Lent doesnt work. And those are the times
when we are already in the wilderness. A wonderful woman I know found out just before Lent
that her husband was leaving and divorcing her. She felt about this tall. It was an
extremely tough time for her. But she had grown up in the church and had always observed
Lent. So she decided that during Lent she would take fresh flowers to a different person
every week and she would choose someone who was also already in the wilderness. So
a woman who had been caring for her dying husband for years and never left the house: she
got flowers. So did a fellow who had recently lost his wife. And a teacher who had learned
she could not have children. And so on.
Entering into Lent is not blindly following a certain rubric, like not eating meat or
saying the Lords Prayer every night, although there is nothing wrong with either of
these. Entering Lent has to do with being in the wilderness. A place where we become
vulnerable to Gods touch. A place where we no longer place our hands over our ears
and shout, I cant hear you.
When Jesus was in the wilderness he was tempted to give up. He had a very hard job
ahead of him, and he was tempted to just be God, and not mess with the human stuff. Just
create food for himself, grab the kingdom and show everyone who he really was by leaping
from the top of the temple and living. (Pause) But Jesus said, No. After 40
days he was surely exhausted, but he said, No. Im going to do this right. I
will follow the path set before me and give my people a new way to live, a new way to find
This Lent, Even if we should find ourselves all out of faith like the young singer, lets
keep going. Lets open our hearts to the one that did not give up on us. Amen.