Today is the first Sunday in the holy season of Lent. ‘I hate Lent!’ So said Jonathan Swift. ‘I hate Lent, with its different diets and herb porridge, and sour devout faces of people who only put on religion for seven weeks.’ I actually like Lent. Many of my brothers would I think say the same. It’s a time to get serious. Not just giving up chocolate. The Jesuit James Martin wrote, ‘Don’t give up chocolate; give up being a jerk! It’s time to get serious about God and our lives. It’s a time to go into the desert of one’s heart to encounter God. A time for deeper prayer, repentance, silence and solitude. To look with unblinking eyes at the state of our lives, our relationships, our world.
The world we live in is a beautiful gift, God’s gift to us. And yet we know that God’s gift has been ravaged and broken. Our greed has plundered the land and damaged the environment. Millions live in abject poverty and hunger. Our wars, as in the Ukraine right now, have and continue to kill and maim and disfigure millions. Our sin has broken and scarred our relationships with one another, broken up families, divided people of different cultures, races, and beliefs. Our world, God’s precious and fragile gift to us is torn and divided violently at every level.
This terrible process is described in the New Testament as the work of ‘diabolos’ or the devil. That Greek word ‘diabolos’ used in the New Testament, literally means, ‘the one who throws apart’. The work of diabolos is essentially to divide, to break up that which was one.
God sent Jesus into the world to wage a great battle. And that battle begins today. On this first Sunday in Lent, St Matthew tells us that ‘Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.’ For forty days, the devil tries every ruse, every trick, every half-truth, to work his terrible work of division and destruction. In keeping with his nature, diabolos tries to tear apart the relationship between Jesus and his Father. ‘If you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread. If you are the Son of God throw yourself down, and angels will come to bear you up.’ With his weasel words the devil tries to drive a wedge between the Father and the Son; to break the essential relationship of trust between Jesus and his Father.
It is the same distinctive diabolical tactic as used in the garden of Eden. The devil says to the woman, ‘Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’ He has cast doubt, and the woman is now not quite clear what God had said. But she does know that the forbidden fruit looks delicious and is a delight to the eyes, and she desires it. So, when the devil says, that if she tastes it, ‘You will not die,’ she takes it. And she gives some to her husband Adam. By sowing the seeds of distrust, the devil tries to rupture the relationship of trust and obedience between the creator and the created. And he succeeded.
Yet Jesus, the second Adam, throughout his desert experience, throughout all the temptations throughout those forty days of testing, remained utterly faithful to that relationship of trust. He would not allow the devil to tear and destroy his relationship with his heavenly father. The wilderness experience was the first of many battles for Jesus. Over the next few years, during his ministry in Galilee, Jesus would do battle daily with the divisive and destructive work of diabolos. Healing the sick, mending the broken hearted, reconciling and forgiving sinners, redeeming a torn and shattered world.
But the final battle was still to come. The final battle would take place at Calvary. For if the work of diabolos is to divide and separate, the work of Jesus is to reconcile. When he died on that cross, he won the decisive battle. With his arms outstretched, Jesus was mending a broken world, bringing God and humankind together again, and bringing humankind and the whole created world together again. Jesus came for this purpose. Jesus came to mend. Or as St Paul put it more theologically in Second Corinthians, ‘In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.’ The work of diabolos, the great divider, the great destroyer’ has been defeated once and for all, by the great reconciler, Jesus Christ, through the cross.
On this first Sunday of Lent, God’s invitation to you and to me, is to join in the great work of reconciliation, of mending. St Paul in Second Corinthians says, ‘God has given to US the ministry of reconciliation.’ That is all of us here! Each one of us who has been baptized. For in our baptism we were all marked with the sign of the cross – the sign of forgiveness and reconciliation, and in our baptismal covenant we promised to share in the work of mending. Christianity is really all about mending. That’s what redemption means; mending something that is torn or broken. And that is what each one of us is called to do – to share with God in mending that which is broken. Mending our relationship with God, mending our relationship with one another, mending our relationship with our broken planet.
So, how are you doing with the job of mending? Lent is here; a great time to take stock and ask, ‘What are the gifts that God has given me for this work? We all have them; God gave them to us at baptism. What are yours? We are not always aware of them, and they often seem very ordinary, but can be wonderfully used by God. Maybe you’re a good listener. Maybe you have a great sense of humor, to cheer up someone who is sad. You may just have a word of hope to share with someone in distress. You may be particularly faithful in holding others up in prayer. God may be calling you now, to name and use the gifts that you have been given, to use them to mediate God’s reconciling love to a world longing to be made whole and well.
Maybe you know particular brokenness in your own life? Maybe this Lent you will be challenged to mend a broken relationship? Perhaps it is your relationship with God that needs attention; is God calling you to a deeper intimacy?
Are there other areas of your life that need mending? Places of brokenness, that need the power of Jesus’ forgiving and reconciling love? A torn relationship with a family member or coworker?
Maybe you know brokenness and division within yourself? Maybe some secret or besetting sin, some addictive or destructive behavior? Where do you need healing, forgiveness, reconciliation?
The cross is the place to find it; the place of hope and new life. However broken and torn our lives may be, our world may be, we never lose heart, but look to the cross, for there, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.
So, at the beginning of this holy season of Lent, I invite you, when you come up to receive our Lord in bread and wine, to ask him for healing for what is broken in yourself and in God’s precious creation. And then to offer yourself, body and soul, to share with God in the great work of mending, to which we have all been called.
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