THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
1st Sunday in Lent
Luke 4: 1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil[a] led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil[b] said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil[c] took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Welcome, dear friends, to Lent.
Lent is the season of the Christian calendar that takes place in the 40 days between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday. In Lent we follow Jesus in His 40 days in the wilderness; the 40 days witnessed to in our reading from Luke 4 this morning.
40 days of waiting, 40 days of fasting, 40 days of introspection which we hope will draw us deeper and deeper into the reality of God in Jesus Christ who took on human flesh and entered into the human condition to free us from sin.
As a young Christian, as a new convert in my early 20s, I must admit that I first found Lent to be kind of a tense season; it was a season that was meaningful, a season that was deep, a season that called myself and the church into deeper prayer, but I must admit, I didn’t often feel like I knew what I was supposed to be doing in Lent.
Asking those more experienced Christians around me, I learned that what I was supposed to be doing was fasting, and I could do this in two ways:
I could give something up – a pleasure, a temptation, a distraction, in order to draw my focus more sharply onto Christ alone or, I could take something on – a prayer practice, a discipline of reading scripture, a task of serving others, that could draw me in line with God’s purposes for my life.
Over the years, I’ve given up and taken on various things through Lent. But still, that tension of the Lenten season remained; the tones of those prayers and hymns, the dense subject matter of those readings and sermons, it all felt like there was a serious course of study going on that I could not quite hang onto: Like I had arrived late to a difficult lecture that was simply too difficult for me to comprehend.
It was not until I was already in Seminary that I realized the truth of this feeling:
That this is what Lent is supposed to feel like.
Lent is supposed to be challenging.
Lent is supposed to elude our complete grasp and understanding.
Lent is supposed to draw us into deeper mysteries:
This time of Lent is meant to draw us deeper into mysteries—mysteries of Bread and Wine, mysteries of God and Human – so that when we finally reach the glory of Easter together, we will more fully understand what it is God has accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And ultimately, so that we will more fully understand how we are loved beyond our comprehension.
God not only loves us more than we can comprehend; God also loves us in a way that is beyond comprehension – a way that is centred in the person of Jesus Christ; a person who is at the same time both the “sweetness of life itself” as well as the greatest challenge of faith we will ever know.
Lent is tense
Lent is challenging
Lent is mysterious
But without Lent, without these 40 days of pondering and praying, we do not have the full magnitude of the Easter miracle.
In Lent Christ invites us to join Him in 40 days of prayer and fasting, so that by the time he arrives in Jerusalem, by the time he carries his cross up to the hill of Calvary, by the time he dies and is resurrected three days later…
-We too have spent 40 days in prayer and fasting
-We too have journeyed with him to Jerusalem
-We too have picked up our cross and followed him
-And we too will know what it means when he finally cries out “it is accomplished!”
So, where do we begin such a monumental journey?
Where do we meet Jesus in the beginning of Lent?
As we have just heard in Luke’s Gospel, we meet Jesus as He is departing the Jordan River, and going into the wilderness to wait and to fast for 40 days.
“Waiting” is one half of the first acts of Lent.
And “waiting” is a thing that’s easy to ignore, but it is actually quite important:
Each of us, in our lives, is waiting for something at this moment:
Waiting for Spring to come and melt the snow.
Waiting to make good on those things we said we would do once it is warm enough.
Waiting for the school semester to end.
Waiting for tax season to hurry up and be over already. J
But also waiting for doctor’s appointments, waiting for test results, waiting for illness to be named or pain to pass us by.
In a world obsessed with productivity and instant entertainment, waiting is a waste of time, a nothing space, a time when we are simply waiting for life to start again; but, truly, a great deal of life happens while we are “waiting.” Sometimes, when life does finally start again, we look back on the time of waiting and see it for as rich and as significant as it really was.
In Lent we wait and we fast for 40 days, because Christ waited and fasted for 40 days, like Moses and the prophets before him.
“Fasting” is the other half of the first acts of Lent.
Though not a regular part of life in our time and place, fasting has been practiced across the world by men and women of every place, time, language, and faith.
There is something basic, something primordial about the act of intentionally going without in order to focus one’s life, to go without food or water or companionship or sex, allows a person to focus and to rely upon God alone.
Following in the footsteps of virtually every important Old Testament figure from Moses, to Daniel, to Nehemiah, Jesus went to the wilderness place to wait and to fast.
For us, Lent may be a time of tension; we might feel tension as we practice our own fasts: giving up chocolate or taking on a Scripture-reading schedule, but these practices and this tension is merely a shadow of what Christ waited and fasted into in his journey in the wilderness.
In addition to waiting, in addition to fasting, Luke tells us that Jesus was also being “tempted by the devil” for those 40 days and nights, and that by the time He finally reached the end, he was “famished.”
One of my absolute favorite pieces of devotional art is a painting called “Christ in the Wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoi – in this painting we see Christ, as he must have appeared after those forty days. We know it is Christ because he is a handsome man with long hair and a beard, dressed in a robe, and seated in a posture of prayer, but everything else about Him is wrong.
He’s thin, deathly thin, with bony arms and sharp cheeks.
He is dirty, his long hair and beard matted and his robes stained and dull.
His eyes are intelligent but too hungry and too tired to be kind, set deep in their dark sockets they look out on a barren and unforgiving wilderness, fixed on a rock about the size and shape of a loaf of bread.
Luke tells us that Christ was “famished” after his 40 day fast, but he was not rewarded for it, there was no feast at the end, no holiday, no long weekend visits with family, only a visit from the Prince of Lies, who taunted Him in an attempt to get Christ to give up what He had suffered so faithfully for.
Satan approached Christ with three tricks, three requests designed to get Him to give up His fast and ultimately his cross:
If you are the Son of God, why not turn this stone into bread?
If you are who you say you are, why not take authority over all the kingdoms of the world?
If you really are the Son of God, why not throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the Temple, for God will send his angels to protect you?
In response to each of these attempts, Christ responded with a quotation from Deuteronomy:
“One does not live by bread alone”
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”
Good retorts. Good use of Scripture. Of course.
But do we understand the point?
Knowing what we know about Jesus Christ, how do we understand this scene?
Knowing that Jesus Christ is God’s only begotten Son.
Knowing that Jesus Christ has within Him the power to walk on water, turn water into wine, to feed 5000 with a few fish and loaves.
Knowing that Jesus Christ has been blessed with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and has come to call the whole world to “repent and believe the Good News”.
Why does Jesus Christ subject Himself to the temptations of the devil?
After all, Satan may be a formidable foe for humanity, but he is no match for Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with Us!
For whose benefit does Jesus Christ undergo these temptations? For whose benefit does he point to Scripture? For whose benefit does He undergo these 40 days and nights of waiting and fasting?
For whose benefit does Jesus Christ endure the pains of his whole ministry: The hunger in the wilderness? The opposition of the Pharisees? The humiliation handed out by Pilate? The pain and death of the His execution upon the cross?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Friends, it is for the world, it is for each of us that Christ took all of it on: the waiting, the fasting, the hunger, the denial, and, finally, the death of the cross.
Christ took all of this on for us and gave it freely. He accomplished it perfectly, in great pain and sacrifice, atoning for more than we can possibly imagine and setting us free to live in His perfected love.
Friends, there are times when the Good News of Jesus Christ is not so dissimilar from the knowledge and advice of the world.
There are times when “what it means to follow Jesus” seems little more difficult than taking time to help others, or to practice charity, or to pray a little more often.
There are times when the cross placed before each of us does not look so heavy.
Lent is not one of those times.
The time of temptation, of waiting and of fasting, is not one of those times.
Lent is a time when we learn over and over again that the debt, paid in full in Christ’s blood, one Friday many years ago, is not some easy thing, and that the thing that makes it so difficult is learning to accept that He did it for us. For you, specifically.
If you want to know why He did it.
If you want to know why He went to that wilderness.
If you want to know why he spoke those words, in particular, to the devil.
If you want to know what happened on that cross on that Friday many years ago.
We have been given a book of answers along with a variety of practices to draw us closer.
And more than that.
We’ve been given time. Time to wait and to fast.
These 40 days are one of God’s gifts to you. How will you use them?