First Sunday of Lent – 18 February 2024

Each year, as Lent begins, we hear of Jesus heading out into the wilderness to fast and pray, and there encountering the Devil, who tempts him. Before we rush to the great spiritual battle that concludes the story it is good to consider the setting.

The wilderness was often shown in the scriptures as a testing place; a place where the lack of everyday things forced people to consider the “big picture.” But going back to the beginning, literally, the wilderness was where Adam and Eve went after leaving Eden. The place where life was hard, what they needed was gathered by the sweat of Adam’s brow and Eve’s experiences were full of discomfort. It is into that reality that Jesus goes, and it is not surprising therefore that there he meets the cause of that situation, the one who tempted Adam and Eve to turn away from the Lord. And the temptations that Jesus faces aren’t something new and startling.

Which is not surprising. Evil cannot do anything new. If you look over the great sweep of history there is a dreadful sameness about what is wrong. Again and again the same faults, the same horrors. The prizing of material things and worldly power – those temptations that Satan tries on Jesus – leading to violence and abuse.

So the wilderness where Jesus is tempted is not just a random place, it is in fact the place to which the things that Satan offers lead. The question that is put to us at the start of each Lent therefore is: Do you want this, or do you want something more?

Hopefully, in the full meaning of that word, we want something more.  Lent is a time for us to think about what we really want. Just as the things we give us for Lent tend to reveal to us our deeper needs, so the period of forty days as a whole can be an opportunity for us to step away from the busyness of our ordinary lives, in which all the things we do for work or leisure, all the routines we have in place, often distract us from facing what is really important in life.

That busyness stops us seeing both the deeper temptations we face to give in to patterns and habits of sin that damage us and damage those around us, and the deeper hunger we have for the life Christ offers to us and which can really make us free. So, we might pray that this Lent will help to make our choices clearer to us, that we might choose, not the wilderness of want and hard labour, but the joy that God has willed for us from the beginning.

Fr Chris Denham

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