by Pastor Jonathan Heifner
“He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.”- Mark 1.13 CEB
We marked the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, and we did so without ashes and without a gathered (in-person) congregation of worshipers.
& yet, some of it was still very familiar: the kinds of things we do “again & again.” We offered the same invitation, heard the same scriptures, sang the familiar hymns, offered another prayer of confession, and heard the words of forgiveness again.
In other ways though, it feels like Lent 2020, when we began another season, the one of distance and isolation and constant reminders of our frailty, never ended. For some of us, it is starting to feel more like the Hebrew children’s years in the wilderness than the days of Jesus there.
Nonetheless, here we are again, at the beginning of Lent, the season in which we begin the long journey required of all who will walk with the risen One.
& yet, I am well aware that very few of us have the energy for the austerity of Lent. Most are still looking for a reprieve from the ongoing wilderness experience.
I’d offer this thought: in the midst of the starkness of the wilderness, Lent, at the heart,
is an invitation from our good God. We tried to emphasize that message on Ash Wednesday.
If you gathered around a screen on Wednesday evening, you heard a poem that started this way:
“I like to imagine that each year,
God invites me to a party...”
(“Invited” by Rev. Sarah Are)
This is the kind of Lent I need.
There are a couple different ways interpreters try to explain Jesus’ time in the wilderness, and particularly, the “wild animals” of Mark 1:13. Some see the animals as part of the threat to Jesus, along with the hunger and the tempter. But, others think Mark is trying to help us see something else. Some suggest the presence of the wild animals with Jesus is a nod to the prophet Isaiah’s dream where “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together...” (Isaiah 11.6 NRSV). I suppose both interpretations seem reasonable enough. Certainly, Jesus will encounter plenty of danger. & yet, in a gospel all about the good news of God showing up to set the world right, it seems easier to imagine, that even in the midst of this wilderness, God is doing it.
As we embark on this Lenten journey, may it be for us an invitation to reorder our time and our lives around the God who, even in the wilderness, is reordering all creation.
Who knows, maybe this Lenten season could be just the thing we need in the midst of what seems like Lent, one year in.
If you'd like to join us in this kind of Lent find opportunities HERE.
Pastor Jonathan is the Associate Pastor at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Cedar Rapids.
Artwork: Alphonse Mucha, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons