The Collect – Opening Prayer – for this First Sunday of Lent has us praying:
Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.
We ask to grow in understanding. That’s our goal for Lent. We desire to understand the riches hidden in Christ. And, we ask that we might pursue the effects of those riches, by worthy conduct. We can unpack this prayer and find our Lenten journey.
Jesus shows us the way in his journey into the desert. Mark tells us “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.” Though Satan tempted Jesus, it was the Spirit who was guiding Jesus into this experience. Jesus came out of the desert, prepared by the Spirit, to encounter and face the temptations that would confront him for the rest of his life – right up to the Garden, the night before he died. It would have been tempting for him – because he so passionately wanted to bring about the coming of God’s kingdom – to use his power to feed himself, to manipulate the people into accepting him, to bargain with the devil himself. Instead, Jesus understood these “battles” and placed himself in his Father’s hands – “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Lent is a journey in the desert for each of us. It’s quieter and clearer in the desert. There are fewer distractions, fewer toys, fewer addictive behaviors, fewer arguments. There’s no one to yell at in the desert but myself and the enemy. The word “temptation” has its roots in a word that means “leaning” or “tending.” Our temptations are the attractions, habits, safe havens of escape for us. Going into the desert – stripping ourselves of all the noise and distractions (things that lean us or tend us in the opposite direction) – so that we can see more clearly, understand with greater focus, what we are really like – what we are really about. During Lent, we can see the fault lines, with our eye wide open. We can recognize where the battle for integrity really is, where the struggle for our best self is waged on a day to day basis. Each of us can give ourselves to concretely discovering the place where we teeter between doing what we know is right and good and loving, and responding selfishly, even with revenge and divisiveness. In the desert of Lent, those choice points become clearer and can result in our discovering riches Jesus is offering us in a life that is more whole and balanced, responsive to his grace, and full of self-sacrificing love.