Finding grace in the wilderness

1st Sunday Lent
Year B 2015
22 Feb 2015
Les  Ruhrmund

 As we start the first full week of Lent, some of us will still be thinking about what we’re going to do this Lent to make it meaningful and others will already be well under way. Lent is just too important a time in the year to let it slip away unnoticed. Just as in our personal calendars there are times in the year of joy and celebration and times of quiet and reflection, so there are in our liturgical calendar different times with very different moods and character. And each season is dependent on the other. We only know real joy when we have experienced real sorrow; we only appreciate happiness when we’ve know the pain of sadness. Spring is all the more wonderful because it follows winter. Every year the seasons repeat themselves – autumn, winter, spring and summer – and yet every year they are different.

This Lent too is different; much water as flowed under the bridge in our lives since Lent last year. Things have changed: love, health, family, job, our relationship with God and the Church; our relationship with ourselves.

The changes in the liturgy during Lent are there to encourage and remind us that these next six weeks have a different significance from any other time in the year. In the Mass, the Gloria is not said, there are no Alleluias or flowers, the colour is purple and music is kept to a minimum.  This is a time for reflective preparation of our great Easter celebration.

The first reading taken from the book of Genesis recounts the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood. Is the story of the flood myth or history? The recent epic movie ‘Noah’ probably leans towards myth. But it is neither myth nor history. The best term would be the creation-flood story. The ancient writers and thinkers didn’t have the tools of philosophy and theology and language that we have today to explore complex and serious questions and ideas and instead they used a narrative to express their understanding of our relationship with God and vice versa; and while that may strike us as being a bit naive, the stories are nevertheless quite profound in the telling.

The flood story tells of new beginnings, a fresh start, a new covenant between God and his people and it prefigures what we today celebrate in Baptism. In the extract we heard in the second reading from Peter’s First Letter, he writes that just as Noah was saved by water, so we are saved by the waters of Baptism. Through Baptism we are brought into a new relationship with God. The sign of God’s covenant with Noah is the rainbow and perhaps the next time we see a rainbow we could let it remind us of our covenant with God through Christ.

Lent is a time for us to reflect on how far we have drifted from the purity of our baptismal promises and a time to refresh our relationship with God; a time for a change of heart. Lent is a time for action. We cannot think ourselves into a change of heart; we have to change our behaviour before we’ll experience a true change of heart. We are not disciples by virtue of our silent prayers and weekly Mass; we’re only disciples when we take the faith that is in our heads, nourished with prayer and worship, and put it into action in our every day living.

“Repent and believe in the Gospel’ says Jesus after he returns from the wilderness in the extract we heard from Mark’s Gospel.

Mark’s version of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is much shorter than Matthew’s or Luke’s but in its brevity it loses none of it punch. Jesus is driven into the wilderness immediately after his baptism in the Jordan and it comes as a bit of a surprise I think that the Spirit who came upon him in the River Jordan is the very same Spirit that drove him into the wilderness. The wilderness in scripture is a place of both testing and revelation as witnessed in the centuries before Jesus in the lives of Moses, Elijah and the people of Israel on their way to the Promised Land.

I think it would be fair to say that many of us are already in the wilderness as we start this Lent and we should be encouraged to know that we are there because of the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It’s a lonely place and notwithstanding the physical comforts and pleasures of our lives, there is often an empty, unfulfilled space of disquiet in our hearts. A nagging sense that we’re alive but that we’re not really living. Lent is a time to explore that space and find God’s grace. Grace creates the very emptiness that grace alone can fill.

It’s in the wilderness, in our weakness, in out temptations and trials, that we’ll find grace.

Jesus was tested by Satan but sustained in his faithfulness to the Father by God’s grace.

In the wilderness we’ll find God within us and we’ll find ourselves in God.

Our temptations, our failings, our flaws and mistakes and our sufferings, are doorways to God’s grace. But nothing will change unless we take a risk and open that door and allow the grace to uphold us.

Jesus preached that the very power of God is available to those who open themselves to him and to his gospel way of loving service.

Through prayer, sacrifice, penance and charity we can come out of the wilderness in this Lenten season with a renewed and revitalised relationship with God, ourselves and our neighbour

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