Four days ago we finally began our Lenten pilgrimage after a long Epiphanytide. For a solid eight weeks following the Epiphany we have celebrated all the ways Jesus was made manifest as the messiah to the world and have studied how these stories help us recognize how Jesus is made manifest in our midst today. Wednesday, we received our invitation to a holy Lent, had ashes placed on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality, and we are now at the first Sunday in Lent.
As you might have gathered from our gospel lesson from Luke this morning, things have gotten really serious, very quickly! No sooner has Jesus come up from the waters of his baptism, he hears an affirmation of his identity from his Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him. In a sense, Jesus has an epiphany and is filled with the Holy Spirit, which then leads him into the harsh Judean desert where the gospel writer says that he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Now, think about that for a moment: even though only three of Satan’s challenges are recorded in the lesson, Luke is quite clear that he is tempted for forty days, all the while with no provision of food or sustenance.
I do not know about you, but I am not encouraged by starting out on these forty days of Lent with a story of Jesus being subjected to mental and physical abuse by the devil! This may explain why Lent is not at the top of my list of favorite Liturgical seasons, especially since my track record with temptation is pretty dismal. I know you may find that hard to believe, but I am the guy who gives up craft beer for Lent and by week two I have succumbed to the desert heat and am quenching my thirst with a cold, refreshing IPA straight from the devil’s hand! In my frustration and disappointment with myself, I try to make myself feel better by thinking of something I can give up the next year where I might actually have success, like perhaps, asparagus. Nothing banishes temptation quite like asparagus. Yet to give up something that would not be challenging is to set out on an ‘adventure in missing the point’; the point being that temptation is a part of our everyday experience. Saint Antony, one of the first of the desert monastics was recorded as saying: “This is the great task of man, that he should hold his sin before the face of God, and count upon temptation until his last breath.”[i]
The First Sunday in Lent
Deuteronomy 26: 1-11
Psalm 91: 1-2, 9-16
Romans 10: 8 b-13
Luke 4: 1-13
It was the fall of 1999 and I was in Jerusalem for the first time. I was there on sabbatical and was attending a course at St. George’s College. A week or so after arriving we all piled onto a bus and headed for Cairo. We were to spend about 10 days in Egypt and Jordan stopping at various sites along the way. One place we stopped was St. Anthony’s Monastery near the Red Sea. As its name suggests, this is where St. Anthony the Great, who is known as the Father of Monasticism, lived alone in the Fourth Century. After our visit to the monastery we went to the cave where Anthony actually lived. The cave is high up on a hillside and requires a climb of several hundred steps, but I decided not to go. Everyone else hiked up the hill, and from all reports had a wonderful time. As enthusiastic as everyone was after having been in the cave where
St. Anthony lived, I have never regretted my decision. I decided not to visit the cave because I thought that the best way for me to honour St. Anthony was not by visiting his cave, along with everyone else, but rather by doing what he did, by being alone in the wilderness. I spent the hour or so while everyone was up the hill, sitting on a rock gazing out at the endless barren landscape.
Lent I — Luke 4:1-13
If I were to show you a drawing of a person with a tiny angel perched on one shoulder and a tiny devil perched on the other, I have no doubt you would recognize immediately what the picture was trying to convey. Temptation is a universal phenomenon, isn’t it? All of us know what it is to be tempted.